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Don Donato fiction

Chapter V.

“Like me to write you a little essay on the Importance of Subject?  Well the reason you are so sore you missed the war is because war is the best [emphasis original] subject of all. It provided [sic] grasps the maximum of material and speeds up the action and brings out all sorts of stuff that normally you have to wait a lifetime to get. What made 3 Soldiers [written by John Dos Passos] a sweet book was the war. What made Streets of Night [written by John Dos Passos] a lousy book was Boston. One was as well written as the other. I can hear you telling me I’m all wrong. Maybe I am. Love is also a good subject as you might be said to have discovered…. And don’t for christ sake feel bad about missing the war because I didn’t see or get anything worth a damn out as a whole show, [and] not just as touching myself, which is the deep, romantic view point, because I was too young. Dos, fortunately, went to the war twice and grew up in between….”

[Ernest Hemingway to Scott Fitzgerald, 1925]

The summer sunlight poked through the leaves of the Chestnut trees standing along the wide Boulevard Montparnasse. Ernest and I sat on the terrace of the Café La Closerie des Lilas. Shafts of bright, clear light descended from above, falling on the tabletops where their reflections burned like sanctuary candles. A bottle of light, red wine sat between us. He poured me another glass.

“Congratulations, Max wrote me that he decided to publish your novel,” I said. I knew I would get no thanks.  Ernest’s first novel, The Torrents of Spring, was rejected by a London publisher. I convinced him to send his second one, The Sun Also Rises, to Max Perkins at Scribner. Max wasn’t all that impressed, but I assured him that Ernest was the real thing and that it was important to get him now.

“You don’t box, do you? Ernest said. “I would guess not. The problem with you, Scott, you’re afraid to get hurt. Do you know how to tell time? “That was one thing about Ernest: it seemed he never cared about getting hurt. He thrived on risks, like he had something to prove.

He looked up at me with pupils black and wide, almost suggesting he wasn’t sure I could successfully operate a watch.

“I’m boxing with Callaghan this afternoon. We need a timekeeper.” He finished off the wine in his glass.

“Sure, sure,” I replied, “but why do you do it, why the boxing? Didn’t you see enough fighting in the War?”

“You’ll never get over it, will you?” he said while he poured himself more wine. He lifted the glass toward one of the streams of light and inspected the contents as he swirled the glass. He was right. I missed the greatest opportunity for any writer of my generation. Ernest had told me once that in war all of life is experienced in a day.

“It’s not my fault,” I protested. “It was over before I could get there. Tell me, what was it like?”

“It’s never over for those who were there. What happens to a man in war cannot be told. It must be felt.”

He stood up abruptly. “Are you coming?” he barked.

He made his way from the terrace and started walking up the Boulevard. I hurried and caught up with him.

“Where are we going?” I asked.


“You just had a half a bottle of wine.”                                                                                  

“I don’t like to drink too much before a match.”

We walked about two blocks, turned down a side street, and stopped at a pair of wooden doors. He pushed on the right one. It resisted. He pushed harder, and the worn door began moving, scraping along the cement floor. It was an abandoned warehouse. A thin canvas mat lay in the center. Ernest stepped onto it, stripped off his shirt and started throwing punches at the air.

“Do you have a watch?”

I pulled my watch from my vest pocket.

“Each round is three minutes. You say ‘start’ and ‘stop’ when it’s time.”

It was the War he was throwing in my face. I wanted to say, “where are the gloves. I’ll go a few rounds with you.” What I wanted to say and what I wanted to do were quite different. In truth, I was afraid to get hurt. Only to experience war could have made me take chances, lie in wet, muddy trenches with every nerve in my body quivering, digging my fingers into the mushy ground, the concussion of impending death exploding around me. What did courage feel like? I may never know, but I wanted to see and hear it, the kind of fearlessness that Ernest threw around so naturally.

He stopped throwing punches and walked up next to me, tipped his head to an area at the back of the large vacant space. He spoke in a near whisper, “You see that guy over there?”

I looked and saw a man pushing a broom. I looked back at Ernest.

“He’s Austrian, fought the War. He says he wasn’t on the Italian front, but I think he’s lying. The son-of-a-bitch could have fired the mortar that knocked me unconscious, nearly killed me. He’s moved his family to Paris, trying to start over. He’s one of the ones who got away, Scott.”

Wouldn’t Ernest ever stop fighting the War? Before I could answer, I heard the sound of the door scarping on the concrete floor. It was Morley Callaghan. He was carrying a duffle bag. Morley was an American spending the summer in Paris with his wife. He was a reporter turned writer and did some boxing in college. Ernest knew him back in the States. I had run into him a few times at the cafés in the Quarter.

Morley didn’t waste any time. We exchanged greetings and he opened the duffle bag and took out the gloves. Ernest grabbed a pair. Morley stripped off his shirt and put on the other pair.

“Alright, Scott,” Ernest said, slamming his clenched gloves together, “three minutes a round.”

I looked at my watch and I said, “start.” The two men squared-off. Ernest threw a few wild punches. Morley blocked them and countered with more measured blows. I kept an eye on the time. At three minutes, I yelled, “stop.” Ernest took most of the punches, but it just seemed to whet his appetite for more.

I shouted, “start,” and the punches started flying again. By the fourth round, Ernest looked like he was ready to collapse. His face was dripping with sweat; his hands dropped lower. The man seemed to welcome punishment. I studied Ernest’s face closely. It was frozen into a stolid mask. His eyes looked in Morley’s direction, but their focus went beyond his opponent’s punishing gloves. For a moment, I had thought I was looking at the cold strength of courage, but there was something wrong. Ernest didn’t appear like he was fighting to win. He was just holding on. I was sure that in his own mind, in some twisted sort of way, he believed he was winning. From what I had come to understand about him was that anyone could throw punches, but only a real man could take them.

My mind began to drift. Each bruising snap on Ernest’s skin fell on me; its sting was strangely familiar. Each blow penetrated my exterior and landed squarely deep inside me. Each strike pealed a painful soberness. The shoes of the man of the world were conspicuously covered with Minnesota mud. I stepped back. The glaze in Ernest’s eyes, his unwavering focus on the shimmering distance, chilled me. I knew now what I saw. From the ghastly ash of his fears, grew a strong, vital tree, but it did not survive from courage. It grew only from desperation.

My attention was drawn back to the match. Morley had caught Ernest with a right hand in the mouth. He hit the canvas. His lip was bleeding. His mouth full of blood. Morley turned to me. “Scott, how long was that round?” 

My watch! I glanced at the time. It was just over four minutes.

Morley grabbed Ernest by the arm and helped him to his feet.

“God damn you, Scott, I knew you let that round go too long,” Ernest yelled as he pulled off his glove and headed for the bathroom to try to stop the bleeding.

“Morley,” I said, “he thinks I did it on purpose. He thinks I wanted to see him get hurt.”

“He’ll get over it.”

He probably would, but I don’t know if I would. What was I thinking? He was tired and vulnerable. I had let him down. He was my peer, a writer who created truth from worn, ragtag pretense. His disappointment in me clawed at my inner fabric, a whole cloth that I had woven in night’s darkness out of thread plucked from hope and imagination. I had never walked in the mud of Minnesota. My parents were unknown to me. I had burst into the world as a novelist at an early age. The world had quickly swept me up in Alabama as one of its highest members. This was the seminal fiction which had become the hardened, immutable character of self which I had created. I could not bear to be re-written.

Ernest came out of the bathroom. His upper lip was bulging from tissue paper he had stuffed under it. I wanted to apologize and explain it was an accident. Before I could speak, with his finger putting pressure on his lip, he looked at me. His words were loaded with accusation,

“If you wanted to take a shot at me, why didn’t you put the gloves on? You couldn’t do it, could you?”

“I didn’t want…“ I said.

He interrupted, “I don’t want to talk about it now. Meet me at Gertrude Stein’s tonight.”

I nodded and walked out.

I walked up the Boulevard to the rue Palatine where Zelda and I were living at that time.  When I came in, she was sitting by the window in the pallor working on a painting.

“Home early, aren’t you?” She said.

“I thought you might want to come to Gertrude Stein’s tonight. It’s Saturday. We’ll stop at Les Deux Magots first for a drink.”

“Where were you, or shouldn’t I ask? Who were you with?”

“Ernest, watching him box.”

“Of course, who else?” She stopped painting and turned toward me.

“And he’ll be there tonight?”

“What difference does it make?” I replied. I sat on the couch straining to appear nonchalant. Zelda stood up and stood in front of me.

“You spend more time with him than me. That’s the difference it makes.” She paused, her face straight and stern, her eyes sure, and blurted, “in bed and out.”

What? What was she saying? All those rumors started by McAlmon, and now this. I got up. I was speechless. It was the worst thing she had ever said to me. I began to walk toward the door.

“Wait,” she said, “there’s something else.”

She went into the bedroom and returned with the briefcase in which I kept my latest manuscripts.

“What are you doing with that?”

“I’m coming with you for a drink.”

I didn’t understand, but I was still reeling from her remark. I couldn’t focus on anything else.

We left the apartment and walked north toward the Seine. I didn’t know what to say. Any vigorous defense that I wasn’t a fairy just gave the proposition more credence. Any divergent discussion smacked of changing the subject out of guilt. We walked in silence.

The café was crowded. We sat together at the bar. No one recognized us, and, for the first time, I hoped no one would. I hunched over. My face hovered over the cracked and stained wood of the surface of the bar. A woman, sitting at a table behind me, said in a hushed voice.” Isn’t that what’s-his-name, the guy who writes those stories in the magazines?” I turned my head just enough to catch sight of who this woman was, but the table was clean and the chairs empty.

Zelda lifted the briefcase onto the bar and opened it. I watched with interest. She removed my yellow legal-sized pad and lay it on the bar. I glanced at the open page. It was in Zelda’s handwriting.

“You’re writing another article?” I asked. “Which magazine? Are you using Harold as the agent?”

“No, I’m tired of having you added as co-author,” she replied.

“You know you won’t get more than a few hundred dollars for it without my name.”

“I don’t care, Scott, I want something that is mine, just mine. That’s what you like isn’t it? Self-sufficient women.”

“This is about Lois, again. Right?” I shuffled my feet and grabbed my drink, digging-in and bracing for the concussion of accusations.

“All those women in Hollywood had a career. They were someone, not of someone.”

I picked up the yellow pad and started reading.

“What’s this? It’s about us. What publication is this for?

“It’s a novel.“

She lit a cigarette, crossed her legs, and turned away from me, surveying the room. There was no place she could hide.

I turned and put her squarely in my sight.

“This is garbage, amateur babble. It’s about us. You used material I want to use in my next novel. You’ll ruin me.”

I slammed my drink on the bar. Some gin jumped out. It sat in a small puddle as a reminder of the frustration and, more deeply, the disappointment from which it had sprung.

“Lois’ career had nothing to do with it. She believed in me. She gave me the confidence to be who I am.”

Zelda stood up. People began to stare.

“And who am I, Scott, one of your characters whom you push around with a number two pencil, erasing this and adding that?”

I took a quick glance around. I directed my eyes straight ahead, away from the crowd. I lifted my drink and whispered. “Sit down, people are beginning to look.”

Zelda raised her voice. “Isn’t that what you want?”

She turned to the crowded tables. She raised her right hand high into the air, addressing the patrons. “I present to you the great F. Scott Fitzgerald.”  She bowed and swooped her hand in my direction.

I grabbed her by the arm and pushed her back on to the bar stool. My eyes were fixed on the floor. I couldn’t bear to see the face of anyone who might have mistaken me for a desperate boy from Minnisota. Zelda took the yellow pad and began to put it back into the briefcase. I grasped her arm and tightened my grip.

“Remember, no novels. Isn’t that ridiculous ballet enough for you?”

She got up, took a step back from the bar, her eyes never leaving mine, and pulled her dress over her head and tossed it on the floor. She stood there in a white satin slip with a plunging neckline and a hem high above her knees. She began pirouetting away from the bar and knocked into a table. The glasses wobbled and wine spilled onto the sleeve of one gentleman’s sport coat. Diners squirmed in their seats, moving their chairs in anticipation of where they would be safe from her next onslaught. She stopped at a table.

“I’m Zelda, the wife of the famous F. Scott Fitzgerald,” she declared, “I’m sure you know him. He would be happy to give you his autograph. In fact, it would be the only thing he’s written lately.”

 She continued circling the room and arrived back at where I was sitting. She curtsied, looked at me, picked her dress up from the floor, and said, “Now, is that ridiculous enough for you.” I ordered a double gin. She took the briefcase off the bar, held it by its sides and swung it violently. Yellow pages fluttered through the air and fell helplessly to the floor. She threw down the briefcase and walked out of the café without another word. I looked down at the floor. I saw the pages I had written in the South of France during a time of betrayal, pages which were flesh and bone.

There on the floor lay Gatsby. He was as real as the person I was. He first introduced himself to me while I was living on Long Island in New York. I began to know him quite well. I wrote some pages about him and sent them to Max. He insisted that this character needed a past, a boyhood, some plausible experiences responsible for making him the man he was. My mistake was that I acquiesced and created what I thought should be Gatsby’s formative past. For some time after that he stopped visiting. The pages I reserved for him remained empty.

In that summer, secluded in Provence, I continued to try to write Jay Gatsby’s novel. Zelda was restless and resentful. She knew how to wound me. She met a French aviator on the beach and spent every day and too many late nights with him. I was convinced something happened in that time that could never be repaired. The person I had become, the person created from life-giving conviction, now had suffered a shattering blow. For the first time since the stardust of my dreams had become the sculptured rock of my firm belief, I had felt a quaking.

Where was Gatsby? Why did he leave me like this? I had gotten to know him quite well. His lofty visions for himself rivaled those of God Himself.  Not even the passing of time could counter the perfection of his Platonic reality. He had met the girl of his dreams, but lost her, but, no matter, she would be his … not again…she would be his as it was meant to be when it was meant to be. I sensed, however, there was something he wasn’t telling me. It bothered me greatly.

It was on the darkest of those nights in the South of France when Gatsby came back to me. Provence settled still and quiet on that night. The easy, hushing sound of the tame tide floated through the open window. The light from the lamp on my desk reflected a warm glow on the yellow paper that waited patiently. Zelda had left earlier with Jozan, her Frenchman, and hadn’t yet returned. I was alone.

The night was warmer than usual. The slow-moving breeze from the sea was missing. I rolled up my sleeves, and sat at my desk, looking blindly through the window at the white moonlight tracing a path on the sandy beach. It was near midnight. The emptiness of the room and the stillness of the night pressed on me, and I sat immobile, paralyzed. A short, soft effort of air crept unexpectedly through the window and the paper on my desk fluttered.  I picked up my pencil and wrote, “he could climb to it, if he climbed alone.”

I heard a rustling sound and glanced out the window. I thought it was Zelda returning. I heard it again and realized it was coming from behind me. I turned, and there was Gatsby. He walked around the room, nervously, his hands in his pockets, his head down as if he was thinking. He stopped.

“You know, you got it wrong”, he said, measuring each word. “She’s not the girl of my dreams. She is my girl, in spite, of my dreams.”

I now knew what he was hiding. He had fallen out of the heavens, where in his imagination, he had aligned the stars to his whim and landed harshly on the earth. I sat again at my desk and wrote quickly, “[He] forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God.” I poured myself a half glass of gin, took it down in a gulp. I dropped my head into my folded arms lying on the desk and began to weep. 

I picked up my manuscript lying on the café’s floor. I finished my second glass of gin and looked out the open door. The fading, soft blue of the evening had begun. The night falls slowly in the summer in Paris. In a few hours an excited darkness, which plays recklessly among the lights of the street cafés, will blend, seamlessly, with the beckoning starlight, and the city will awaken. I walked out and made my way through the growing dimness toward Gertrude Stein’s salon.

I passed through the Jardin du Luxembourg, continued walking up the rue de Fleurs, and stopped at number 27. I proceeded through the covered passageway and entered the courtyard. A flower garden occupied the center, and I circled around on the path until I came to the atelier. The hum of conversation soaked through the door.

I knocked, waited, and no one answered. I tried the door. It opened, and Alice, Gertrude’s partner, greeted me.

Gertrude Stein was an American writer living in Paris. She supported local artists and writers and was a collector. Matisse and Cezanne hung on the walls. Picasso sketches, attached by tape beneath the paintings, fluttered as I passed by them. I navigated my way through the crowd to a table set against the side wall, where I poured myself a drink. Someone was pushing their way through the crowd. It was John Dos Passos.

“Dos, have you seen Ernest?”

“Yea, he’s around here. He’s tanked.”

“I was to meet him here,” I said, wondering if he had mentioned anything to Dos about this afternoon.

“I’ve never known Ernest to carry a gun,” Dos said.

“He has a gun?”

“Right, I just thought you should know. Oh, I saw Zelda, at least, I thought it was her, on my way here. She was walking down the rue Bonaparte. She seemed to be in a hurry. I called to her, but she didn’t answer. Anything wrong? What’s going on?”

“Dos, you were in the War.”

Dos gave a short nod. His forehead wrinkle; his brows flexed down, forming a straight, dark line.

“Would you get upset if someone asked you about what it was like?”

“I wrote a God damned book about it. You read it…Three Soldiers. Everything I had to say about it is in there. No one, who was in the war, wants to talk about it. Is Zelda’s stomach giving her trouble again?”

“Zelda… her stomach? No. It’s just a…a…yes, I read Three Soldiers, but I want to know more.”

“I wrote that in the trenches. At night I wrote in the light of the artillery bursts.”

My body straightened. My head rose. My balance faltered, and a wave of excitement usurped my thinking and shot through my chest. My limbs went weak. It was the romance of it all, like a pre-pubescent girl reading her first scene which penetrated her shielded desire in the way it was meant to be touched.

Dos’ face relaxed and he looked away from me. He stared blankly into the crowd.

“Scott, forget about the war. Sometimes at the beginning of what you thought was a great event, proves itself to be anything but.” He turned back in my direction. “What’s going on with you and Zelda?”

“Dos, I need to find Ernest.”

I lifted my drink, stood on my toes, and looked around the room. I spotted him standing near the Matisse collection on the other side of the room. I slid my body sidewise through the crowd. I heard Leo, Gertrude’s brother, lecturing to Ernest, another man, and a woman.

 “If you look carefully,” I heard Leo say, “you will see that Henri doesn’t paint things. Like he once told me, ‘I paint the difference between things’.”

I pushed my way through the last few people, and Ernest turned to me.

“I want to talk to you,” I said, “about this afternoon.”

His face hardened into a mask of tense skin and contracted muscles. He looked down at the drink in his hand, snapped his head up. A strained smile appeared on his face.

“I’m fine, nothing to talk about.”

I wondered where he was hiding the gun.

“Scott, Scott.” Someone was calling me from within the crowd. I walked closer. It was Alice.

“There’s a man at the door who said that he’s here to speak to you.”

“Speak to me? About what? What’s his name?

Alice pushed passed the few persons standing between us. “He said you wouldn’t know his name. He said he works at the warehouse.”

Ernest was standing behind me. He looked at Alice.

 “I asked him to stop by,” he said. “I told him Scott would pay him ten francs to hear about the War.”

Why didn’t he just shoot me. It would be far less painful.

Ernest followed Alice and they disappeared into the crowd.

I was left standing alone, only the gin remained. The hum of the crowd became distant and foreign. I faced the wall, my spirit swirled and fell farther down into an emptiness where once existed inexorable expectations. From the bottom of this pit, I heard a woman scream. The room went quiet. Ice clinked against the bottom of a glass. I turned around and saw the crowd compacting itself forward. I stood on a nearby chair to see what was going on. A semicircle had formed around Ernest and the Austrian. Gertrude pushed her way to the front and stopped with a jerk when she reached the pair.

 “What are you doing? she said. “Have you lost your mind? Put that gun away.” 

The Austrian was pale, a sweat had broken from his forehead. Ernest was staring intently at him with the gun cocked and pointed.

Cosa hai da dire? Ernest asked, his eyes daring the Austrian to answer.

Niente, Io ho fatto niente.

“Where did you learn the Italian? In Austria? No reason to speak Italian in Austria.”

“Yes, some Italian and some English.”

“Bullshit,” Ernest yelled out. “You learned it at the front.”

“No… I was not at Italy.”

Ernest stepped back, lowered the pistol and fired a shot into the floor. A flash ripped from the barrel; a crisp bang bounced off the walls. Alice stooped down and covered her head. Shrieks erupted from some of the women in the room. The first line of onlookers stepped back. Some standing behind stumbled and were caught by others behind them. Smoke floated around the room, and reality seeped from the odor of gunpowder. I stepped off the chair, squeezed my way to the side of the room, and pressed my back on the wall.

The Austrian’s arms, extended in front of himself, were shaking. He flipped his hands up as if to shield a bullet which may come at any moment. Ernest again pointed the gun in his direction. The Austrian fell to the ground, covering his head with his arms. His entire body was quivering. He tried to speak, but his breathing was too rapid, and his mouth shook so much that his words were just bursts of empty air.

Ernest, with his arm extended and the gun trained on the man, stared down at him and asked, “How many children do you have?”

“Three,” the Austrian mumbled.

Ernest yelled out, “Scott, where are you?”

I remained silent. He yelled louder, “Scott, where the hell are you? I thought you wanted to experience the War.”

Yes, I wanted to know the War, but from the bottom of a trench, holding on to the moist security of the firm and trusted earth.

“Get up here, Scott.”

I started toward the action. I reached the front but stopped far enough away. I had heard stories how soldiers had to wipe the blood and body parts of their comrades off their faces.

“Scott, it’s up to you. Do I shoot him?”

I took a step closer. Ernest was wobbling, his head bobbing.

“Why is it up to me?”  I answered. “Why would I want an innocent man to be shot? A man who’s done nothing to me. A man with a family, a man who had the misfortune of being dragged into this bizarre mess. I can’t stand to see him suffer anymore.”

Ernest turned toward me; his arm with the gun was still extended. He walked closer. He reared his head back, put his arm down, and grabbed the pistol by its barrel. He thrusted it at me. I took it from him. His head swayed back, and, with his body wobbling side-to-side, he focused his glazed eyes on mine, and said, “Now you know what war is about.”

Chapter VI.

“Dear Sheila….

I want to die, Sheila, and in my own way. I used to have my daughter and my poor lost Zelda. Now for over two years your image is everywhere. Let me remember you up to the end which is very close. You are the finest. You are something all by yourself. You are too much something for a tubercular neurotic who can only be jealous and mean and perverse.  I will have my last time, though you won’t be here…I wish I could have left you more of myself.  You can have the first chapter of the novel and the plan. I have no money but it might be worth something…I love you utterly and completely.”

[F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1939]

The train began to slow. I heard the door between the cars open and the conductor walked past. He continued to the front of the car and grabbed the back of a seat whenever the braking caused an unexpected bounce or shove. I braced my foot on the back of the seat in front of me, resisting the forward movement. The station appeared and the conductor announced my stop. I disembarked and hailed a taxi.

The driver dropped me at the Garden of Alla on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. The Garden consisted of a dozen or two of newly constructed bungalows, which sprouted up around a main house. The bungalows served as temporary residences for many of Hollywood’s celebrities and writers. Their comings and goings frequently landed in gossip columns, and their nearsighted, unbridled doings brought an air of frivolity to the place, and too often, the police. I often wondered if someone misspelled “Allah”, or, if God had refused to lend his name to the establishment.

It was only a few days that I had been in Hollywood. I spent most of my time alone. Zelda was still confined to Asheville Mental Institution in North Carolina. On my first day in the Gardens, I needed cigarettes. I walked a short distance up the block and entered a drugstore. There was a couple sitting at a table near the counter. The young man turned to the girl and held her face gently. She ran her hand through his sandy hair and pulled him close. Their lips met sweetly, and soon, they were lost in passion. People began to stare. A chill ran through me. A clammy sweat crept over my body. People and objects began to recede. I reached out and held onto some shelving, holding tight. I pulled hard, and harder, trying to bring myself back. There was a crisp snap, and I fell. I sat on the floor, and for all my efforts, I held only a piece of the shelf in my hand. The young couple was gone.

I spent most of my time at the Studio working on a script. After a few days, I had had enough of the stale, humid air in the cottage on the Metro lot, and I decided to stay home and write. The truth was, no matter how many words I put on the page, I never really wrote anything. It was all gone: the azure tide of the Mediterranean fading into the tenderness of the night, love that vibrated like a tuning fork struck on a star, and a green light marking the dock of the orgiastic future. All gone. What could I do? I needed the money. I continued to churn out scripts, blueprints from which directors and producers built their dreams, and, without reserve or chagrin, their wealth.

In the late afternoon I took a walk in the light of the fading promise of the California sun. When I was midway down the block, five or six cars, swerving and rumbling, rounded the corner. They paraded up the street, recklessly, some side-by-side, others trailing closely behind. The caravan stopped at a bungalow across the street, not far from where I stood. Men and women alighted from the cars. I recognized a writer from the studio, Bob Benchley. He noticed me staring.

“Is that you, Scott?”

I couldn’t ignore him. I pushed myself toward the crowd.

“Scott, come over here. Why don’t you join us? We’re celebrating a good friend’s engagement and, you know, it’s Bastille Day.” A wide, smirking smile appeared on his closed lips, his flushed cheeks bouncing up like two red balls.

I forced a smile and nodded.

“Oh, I want you to meet someone,” he said. He called into the crowd, and a young woman, a bit tipsy, stepped forward.

“Merriam, this is F. Scott Fitzgerald.”

He turned in my direction. “Merriam wants to be an actress. I’m helping her get her start.” He opened his eyes wide and raised his brows. The woman looked at me. Her face was still, her eyes glaring. She seemed shocked that I was still alive.

Bob grabbed me by the arm, and we entered the bungalow. The small drawing room was filled with laughter, erupting loud and abrupt, conversations mingled together into a sonorous hum, men and women gathered in smiling groups, and I sat in a chair in the corner. I lit a cigarette and the smoke swarmed around me.

Through the haze I caught sight of a woman, a decade or so younger than I was I guessed, clinging to the arm of a man dressed in a waistcoat I had seen adorning the stiff and royal in Europe. I heard him addressed as Marquess. The woman stood proudly at his side, her head raised, her hair golden, and her slim body moved with a sophisticated sway. Her smile, manufactured and undirected, beamed by the virtue of her association with a marquee, and, unmistakably, by her arrival as a woman of society.

It was a few days later when again I met the woman with the golden hair and sophisticated sway. She and I were guests at a Writers’ Guild dinner dance at the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles. Her name was Sheila Graham, a gossip columnist. She belonged to the class of finest people who had swept me up years ago in a country club in Montgomery. I had learned she was engaged to marry the Marquee, nevertheless, I found her interesting, and in a most scandalous way, exciting.

We sat alone at our adjacent tables. Everyone had gone to the dance floor. She didn’t notice me watching her. I got up and walked around the back of our tables. I stood behind her, and asked,” Would you like to dance?” She looked at me over her shoulder, smiled, took my hand, and we began to dance. No one had felt so right in my arms since a young, southern belle melded into my dreams.

As I held her in my arms, my thoughts wandered back to the familiar flicker I had seen from Catherine’s terrace that night in New York when the heavens had fallen. The dream-laden stars had lain before me like the fading embers of a temple filled with prayers burned beyond recognition. As we moved smoothly across the floor, I was struck by the realization that what was started by imagination and dreamed into reality had faded and fallen even farther away. Gatsby lay buried in the stillness of a dusty warehouse. In Paris I had struggled to write my next novel. I had reached down, time and time again, into the ash of a once successful writer to the find words, but all I came upon was the gin, the crooked floors of the Montparnasse cafes, and flirtations I re-scripted in my mind into genuine approval. Death lives in many twisted forms. Had I lost Zelda? Now, in the city of fantasy and oversized opportunity, I would rise again, but I knew I could no longer climb alone.

Sheila’s younger years and familiar, golden hair pulled on the hands of time. I reached out to her from the dizzying downward whirl. I thought she could give me all I needed to start again. However, it was sometime later that I discovered, in fright and panic, there was something Sheila did not have. It was Zelda’s alone to give.

The Marquee was called back to Britain for a while, and, in spite of her pending nuptial, Sheila and I began seeing each other regularly. In fact, she ended her engagement, and she and I behaved in the manner of the infatuated. We danced at all the clubs and spent the nights together. We shared our lives in all the known ways of a couple, and in a way that I had never imagined.

Sheila always had to keep up appearances. Her column had made her a target in Hollywood. When your career is taking shots at anyone who’s worth writing about, that is anyone who fell off the straight and narrow of the sinuous Hollywood line, you needed to keep your guard up at all times. She could make or break any up and coming actor. All she needed to do was to ignore him. Then he or she would come pounding on her door, giving her dirt they just dug up in the back lot from some jaundiced garden put there by an avarice producer or studio head. However, in spite of her high profile, there was something about Sheila which ran deeper. Below all the sophisticated mannerisms and cordial voice, I sensed a tentativeness, her movements were sharp and stiff and her words measured. What I saw was a little girl, a vulnerable little girl.

I lived in Encino and Sheila had an apartment in Hollywood. Photos of her family hung on the wall in the parlor. The picture of her sister, Alicia, appeared as a woman of her late teens. The photo was possibly taken at her debut into society. Her father and mother, shown together, bore the stately dress of the time. The mother was bound tightly at the waist, her long dress bunching at the rear as a proud protuberance of excess, popular with the British aristocracy of the time. Her father sat dominantly strait, his hands folded in front of him and his moustache, adorning a straight upper lip, painted a picture of a captain of industry and family.

 My favorite photograph was of Sheila at an early age, dressed in a simple, white dress standing next to her older brother. He was decked out in the fashion of a part-time sportsman and a fulltime pursuer of leisure. There were photos of an aunt and uncle or two. One of the uncles stood beside an Aston Martin with the top and windows down, resting his elbow on the opened door frame. His smile invited anyone with sufficient means to join him for a day of carefree roaming. 

Sheila and I left my house in Encino, where we had spent the night. She was driving, and we were en route to her apartment in Hollywood. I wanted to know more about her. Maybe it was the writer in me seeking to find whatever it was which made a character come to be who he or she was. Or maybe I just wanted to hear more about the aristocratic way of life, reaffirming my place among my peers.

“Tell me more about your sister?” I asked.

Sheila lifted herself slightly off the seat, seemingly, to settle more comfortably.

“There’s not much to tell. Like me, she went to a boarding school in North England and married a few years after she had graduated from Cambridge.”

Sheila gripped the wheel higher up, bringing her hands closer together, as if she needed more control.

“I don’t think I saw any photos of her husband. Did I miss them?”

She kept her eyes directed on the road. “No. It was a short marriage. Divorce you know.”

“Oh, sorry to hear that. What is she doing now? Hope all went well.”

She didn’t answer. Maybe there was some affair, and she didn’t want to go into it.

We rode in silence for a few minutes.

“How did your father make his fortune?” I asked, instantly regretting the topic, thinking that perhaps I might have touched into another sensitive area.

Sheila turned the wheel hard. We jerked to a stop on the side of the road. She was in tears. She bent her head down on the steering wheel. She was crying steadily, gasping for air.

“Your father,” I said, putting my arm around her shoulders, “I shouldn’t have asked. I’m sorry.”

She picked her head up. “It’s all a lie,” burst out between the sobs. She dropped her head back onto the steering wheel.

I remained silent. I didn’t want to upset her with any more questions.

“I was raised in an orphanage from the age of six. I never knew my father. My mother was an alcoholic. I have no family, no sister, no brother, no anyone. My real name is Lily Sheil. My mother and I shared a room in London with a wash woman. She had the bed and we lived on the couch. She couldn’t support me any longer and sent me to live at the orphanage until the age of fourteen. You mustn’t say anything about this. Promise me, promise. You are the only one who knows.”

“But the pictures…” I said.

I had them made by a photoshop in London.

“Even the one of you in the white dress?”

“No, it was a picture of my mother and me. I had them take her out and add a suitable brother.”

 At last, the mystery of her deeper vulnerability, which I sensed in her every word and movement, unraveled before me. A valley of ash, which grew like wheat had become true and yellow through the magic of a fairytale nurtured so carefully, lived on so gaily. The Great Sheila.

I remembered the advice that Gatsby had given me on that miserable night in Provence. One could continue to climb to the top of his ineffable imagination only if he climbed alone. I wept for him and me that night. Again, a tear rolled down my cheek. I knew then that Sheila had “wed” her “unutterable visions” to my “perishable breath,” and she could never again climb alone. In the way Gatsby loved Daisy, in the way I loved Zelda, I then knew Sheila loved me.

Chapter VII.

 “… It is very quiet out here now. I went in your room this afternoon and lay on your bed awhile, trying to see if you had left anything of yourself. There were some pencils and the electric heating pad that didn’t work and the autumn out the window that won’t ever be the same. Then I wrote down a lot of expressions of your face but one I can’t bare [sic] to read, of a little girl who trusted me so and whom I loved more than anything in the world — and to whom I gave grief when I wanted to give joy… It was all fever and liquor and sedatives…

 “I’m glad you’re rid of me. I hope you’re happy and the last awful impression is fading a little till someday you’ll say ’he can’t have been that black’.”

[F. Scott Fitzgerald to Sheila Graham, undated]

Sheila never really understood the extent of my illness.

One night we were having dinner in her apartment. We had run out of wine, and she picked up my glass.

“No, you shouldn’t do that,” I said, putting my hand over the top of the glass. “I have TB.”

She exhaled an audible breath, air of incredulousness. She would get exasperated when I would insist that we change our seats in the theater when someone near us was a “cougher.”

“What makes you think you have TB?”

“I’ve had it since college.”

“How bad is it? What did the doctor say?” Her words challenging and staccato.

“He never said anything about it. I never told him about it. I was afraid he might send me to a sanitarium.”

“How do you know you have it?” Her voice grew to a higher pitch.

She didn’t understand the facts. I leaned forward and waited for her attention to settle coldly in my eyes. I told her the ugly truth.

“My father died from it, and don’t you know that writers are very susceptible to lung diseases. Whenever you hear a writer coughing, move away from him.”

She answered matter-of-factly. “Don’t you think if you had TB, I would have gotten it from you by now?”

“No, when I’m having an upbreak, I stay away.”

She continued looking at me for another moment. I thought she was about to say something, but she dropped her head, lifted her fork, and poked at her food. She had a serious air of concern about her. She looked up, her eyes penetrating me.

“Is that why you wear the hat and scarf?”

“The breeze can be a problem for me. It can create a chill which is undetectable but devastating to the lungs of a TB patient.”

“But this is Los Angeles,” she countered.

“You just don’t understand, do you?  It’s different for me.” I didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I had other problems.

Metro fired me two weeks after assigning me to write a balcony scene for a movie called, Gone With the Wind. It was my last project for the studio. I was writing some stories for Esquire, but money was a problem. It was barely enough to keep up with Scottie’s expenses at Vassar.

My difficulties, however, ran much deeper. My dream, so purely conceived and carefully cultivated, was gasping for breath. My existence, my place as a writer, was crumbling. Everything hinged on publishing a successful novel.

The magazine stories didn’t take much out of me. They were nothing more than a lot of fluff, the superficialities of life framed in entertaining words and catchy phrases. A novel was quite a different matter. It is truth which separates the good works from the great.

In the beginning years, I only needed the intoxication of youth to bring real life to the page. In the wake of time, in the crush of coursing disappointments, it took all my strength to look at what was and what is. I could face it only in the numbness of the gin. I drank steadily.

At night I would read to Sheila sections of my novel as I completed them. One of the perils of truth is that it has a way of being just that. I had entitled my new novel, The Last Tycoon. It was partially inspired by my relationship with Sheila. Her character, Kathleen is in love with Stahr. He is attracted to her because she resembles his dead wife, Minna. Unfortunately for Kathleen, Stahr is still in love with his deceased wife.

Sheila began ignoring me. She said little during dinner. She would often sit by the window, staring off into nothingness. One night, as I walked to my room to do some writing, I said, “dear, why don’t you go for a walk. It might make you feel better.” I was about to open the door to my room, and I heard in a soft, slow, voice trailing off into an inaudible word or two.

“Why don’t you divorce her…”

I stopped and dropped my eyes to the floor.

“I will, I will,” I said, never turning around. “I have had enough. She told her psychiatrists that I was insane and should be committed. I can’t take anymore.”

I entered my room. I was alone and knew instantly there could be no divorce. To divorce Zelda would be to divorce myself. We wed the first time I saw her. An unknowing fantasy stumbled out of the blue light of the night, fell into a poor boy’s dreams, and emerged into my flesh and bone. Gatsby was wrong, terribly wrong. I needn’t go it alone to reach “the incomparable milk of wonder.” Zelda needed to stop being so selfish and do what I said. Together it would be as it should be. She could give me something which Sheila never could… my past.

Sometimes the path to personal demise is built from what is perceived as unexpected opportunity. After being fired by Metro, without a salary for the first time, Walter Wanger, a producer, hired me to write a script in collaboration with a young writer, Budd Schulberg. The movie was set in Dartmouth College. Budd and I needed to go to New Hampshire.

My TB was acting up. I was running a low-grade temperature, so Sheila accompanied me to New York. From there, Budd and I continued on to Dartmouth, and Sheila waited for my return at the Weylin Hotel in the City.

I really don’t remember much. It started with some champagne which Budd and I drank on the plane. When he woke me up in a hotel room in New Hampshire, it was three days later.

“I called Sheila. I didn’t know what to do. She wants you to call her,” Budd said.

He told me I had blacked-out last night after two days of drinking. It had happened to me before. I needed to get to a doctor and stay in bed for a few days with an intravenous drip. The vomiting and nausea, the shaking, the night sweats, but I had to do it.

I arrived back in New York. The whirl around me quickened. Wanger pulled my contract, and I couldn’t stop drinking. Sheila arranged for me to see a New York psychiatrist, Dr. Hamilton. The doctor’s path and mine had crossed a few times in Paris in 1925, and he knew about my drinking. Sheila also had told him about what she considered to be my hypochondriasis.

A knock came on the door of our hotel room. I was sitting on the sofa. Dr. Hamilton entered and pulled up a chair next to me. I took the bottle of gin from my coat pocket and took a mouthful.

“A psychiatrist, I never knew what kind of doctor you were. You don’t mind if I take a drink now and then, do you? It’s much preferable to the resulting alternative.”

“The shakes,” he replied.

He opened his bag and took out a bottle of pills.

“Take one of these every six hours. It will help.”

He checked me into New York Doctor’s Hospital. We talked for an hour each day for the next two weeks. On our last meeting, Dr. Hamilton leaned back in his chair. His focus piercing me.

 “This fear of having TB and your other hypochondriacal symptoms do not come from any fear of dying. Your drinking is not related to this.”

“Fear of death? Death may be what I need.”

“Of course,” he responded, never moving his head, his eyes now meeting mine. “Then you would never grow old.”

A wave of tingling started in my arms and shot through my chest making my heart pound. The tingling shot to my legs; a weakness overcame me.

“Let it go, my friend, your adolescence is over. Bury the past and let it lie in peace.”

 I fumbled in my coat pocket. I put a cigarette in my mouth. My hands were trembling as I held the match. I took a drag, stood up, and ground the cigarette out in the ashtray on the desk.

“I have to go,” I said.

Sheila and I returned to Hollywood. I took a bottle of gin to my room and continued working on my novel. Stahr, my main character, continued to reveal himself to me. I began to see how different he was from Gatsby. It was what Dr. Hamilton had said that made it all so clear. Stahr had buried his past. He was a man deprived of hope. Gatsby was a man of untethered, boundless hope. His only mistake was that he invested it unwisely. It was this difference which the doctor had failed to see. It is hope that separates the beautiful from the damned. I knew I needed to see Zelda.

I told Sheila I was going to Cuba with Zelda for a vacation.

“Go to your Zelda,” Sheila told me. “I had a life in Hollywood before you, and I will have it again.”

The spinning, the chaotic downward whirl, ­ quickened. The gin, money a constant worry, every day ripping the life of a novel from my guts, not knowing if I would ever see Sheila again, Zelda walking a thin edge, and my past fading with each breath I took. I could no longer reach out. I simply held on.

I picked up Zelda at Asheville Hospital, and we flew to Cuba. I continued drinking. There was a cock fight and I rescued one of the chickens. A group of men chased me, caught me and beat me. Zelda remained at the hotel and prayed during the entire trip. I drank. We flew back to New York, checked-in to the Algonquin Hotel. We were thrown out.  Zelda went back to Asheville. I checked into Doctor’s Hospital, checked out, continued drinking, and flew back to Hollywood. My TB was back, so Sheila stayed with me in Encino. I wanted to kill her, but I couldn’t find my gun. I drank some more. I slapped her. The police came. Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post rejected to serialize what I had written of The Last Tycoon. The world was a blur.

It was all slipping further from my grasp. No one wanted to read F. Scott Fitzgerald anymore. Zelda wasn’t getting any better, and Sheila…. I needed to see her.

She consented to see me, and I met her at her apartment. She opened the door and threw her arms around me. It was what I needed.

Encino was dreadfully hot in the summer, and I found it hard to breathe. I moved to an apartment in Hollywood. My breathing didn’t improve. I even had trouble climbing stairs. How ironic, Gatsby once told me that to climb to it, I must climb alone…if only I could.

I had to stop drinking. It was the only way back to the dream-hardened path I had begun to walk so early in life. Sheila’s apartment was on the first floor. I moved in with her. I stopped drinking and wrote every day. It hurt without the gin. Every part I touched deep inside brought a beckoning memory, and when I reached out, it faded into the darkness in the way the blue of the Paris evening succumbed to the night.

Two weeks ago, on one of my better days, I took a walk to Schwab’s drugstore. I needed cigarettes. I entered the store, walked toward the counter and I began to feel dizzy and weak. I remember falling.

“Scott, where have you been? Sit down, have a drink.” It was Ernest. He looked around and spotted the waiter. “Monsieur, gin pour mon ami.”

I sat down at the table below the chestnut trees on the terrace of the Café La Closier des Lilas. Spindles of light, bright and scintillating, streamed down from the openings in the canopy of leaves moving gently in the soft breeze.

“Tell me about this new novel you’re writing,” he said. Ernest was bubbling with excitement. He was truly happy to see me.

Before I could speak, he stood up. He began waving to someone.

“Gerald, over here,” he shouted.

I turned my head and saw Gerald Murphy heading toward us.

“Scott, haven’t seen you around. Working on something new?” He dragged over a chair and took a seat at the table.

“I was just about to tell Ernest about it,” I said.

“Gertrude Stein said you must be working on something. That’s why we haven’t seen you,” Gerald interjected. “Sara and I read your last one…stellar, my friend, stellar. Sara said she thinks it could be one of the best novels of the twentieth century.”

I wasn’t sure what novel he was talking about.

The burning shafts of sun light began to glow brighter until they obliterated the space around us. I sat warm in the brilliance. The breeze lifted me. I spun and tumbled in the blinding light and came to rest on a dusty road. It ran through an empty, barren field, perhaps, a farm left fallow. Long leaf pines, their wide trunks, sparse and nestled close together, stood straight and tall on the sides of the road. The sun, hidden by the clouds, warmed the moist air, which clung to me in the way known only in the Alabama heat.

A young girl stepped out from the dark, barrier of pines. She had the most beautiful whitish-pink skin. Her auburn hair was bobbed with enough audacity to send it into large curls, bouncing recklessly. It was Zelda, young as the day I had met her.

“Scott, I’ve been waiting for you. Come on we have a long way to go.”

She linked her arm around mine. We continued walking. The dark pines became fewer, and pink dogwoods gathered on the sides of the road. A sweet smell soon swarmed around us as the dogwoods were joined by the crape myrtle, whose gentle branches, sprouting purple flowers, hung over the road and watched silently as we passed. 


Don Donato received a Masters of Liberal Arts in Creative Writing and Literature from Harvard University, College of Extended studies, in 2019. His graduate interest was studying the writing of the Lost Generation living in Paris in the 1920’s. In addition to short stories published in various journals, Don has written a novella, In the Faded Blue Light, in the voice and style of F. Scott Fitzgerald in the form of “memoir.”

Don Donato: Dod401@Alumni.Harvard.edu

In the Faded Blue Light

By Don Donato


NOTE: Presented here are chapters three and four of an eight-part novella — that will continue in the winter issue.

Chapter III.

… except that it was wrong, of course, to love my teacher when I should have loved you. But I didn’t have you to love – not since long before I loved her. I have just begun to realize that sex and sentiment have little to do with each other. When I came to you twice last winter and asked you to start over it was because I thought I was becoming seriously involved sentimentally and preparing situations for which I was morally and practically unfitted.

[letter, Zelda to Scott, 1930]

Townsend left the bar, and I turned to Zelda. “I would like you to meet my friends, dear.”

Zelda got up and stood next to me.

“This is Catherine,” I said, gesturing to the girl on my left. “And, of course, you know Cynthia,” turning and nodding to my right. Catherine snapped her head up.

“You know each other?” Catherine asked.

“No, not really,” Zelda replied, “it’s just my husband being his obnoxious self. Ignore him, despite the fact, that he does mean harm.”

“Oh, my mistake,” I said, “From the way you were looking at each other, I assumed… my mistake.”

Catherine smiled, her lips flat and tense, as if restraining any protrusion. It gave the impression that her thoughts lay bursting in her mouth. Her smile faded and then re-emerged as if vacillating with the thrills and uncertainties of an inner, burgeoning story.

Cynthia extended her hand toward Zelda. “I would hate to have to call you Mrs. Fitzgerald all evening.”

“It’s Zelda,” their hands remained together. “… Zelda,” she repeated. 

Catherine broke the ensuing silence.

“I have a great idea. Let’s go to my apartment, much more comfortable. It’s not far. We can walk. What do you say, Scott? Maybe you’ll find some new inspiration.”

Cynthia looked in Zelda’s direction, her words fell softly, “Would you like that?”

I gave Zelda a quick look. She was pensive, her focus distant and intense. She remained still and tensed in the manner of a house cat entranced by a strand of dangling twine. I wondered when she should leap. It was the first time I had to compete with a woman. That’s what it was all about, I was sure. It was just another way for a selfish wife to make her husband feel more inadequate.

“Alright, let’s get out of this place,” I said. The girls moved off their stools and headed toward the door. I turned to follow. Hell, I could hardly walk. When we hit the street, I flagged down a cab. Zelda got in first. Catherine gestured for Cynthia to enter next. Catherine got in, and I started to walk toward the front passenger seat.

“Scott, get in,” Catherine said, “there’s plenty of room back here. Cynthia, do you mind pushing over.” Cynthia pressed closer to Zelda.

Catherine turned her body toward me, and I squeezed in next to her. She remained facing me. She smiled, sometimes looking at me and sometimes staring out the side window. The protrusion of her lips now unmistakable.

We stopped in front of a brick building. It was like the kind that have grown plentiful in New York City. Multiple floors sat perched one upon another. The difference in their remoteness from the life below was all that distinguished one from the other. A dozen steps jutted out onto the sidewalk and led to a set of glass doors made nearly opaque by lace curtains.  We exited the cab, and Catherine held my arm as we made our way up the stairs. I looked back and saw Cynthia and Zelda walking up side-by-side.

We entered the apartment and found ourselves in a parlor with blatant décor.  A red, velvet upholstered couch simmered against one wall. A square glass table sat unnoticed between the couch and two armchairs reminiscent of a time in Europe when comfort succumbed to the desperation for dignity. Cynthia sat on the couch. She partially faced Zelda with one leg bent such that it lay flat with its outer thigh flat against the seat; her other leg draped the couch normally. Zelda sat motionless between them.

Catherine and I sat in the opposing chairs. I felt comfortable sitting upon the aged search for dignity.

Catherine popped out of her chair. “What are we drinking?” She walked toward the small bar against the wall behind us. She returned with a bottle of gin and a glass.

“I know what you want,” she said to me, and put the bottle and glass on the square table. “It’s them two I’m not sure about,” she said, looking at Zelda and Cynthia.

Cynthia had laid her head on the back of the couch and stared at Zelda in a scrutinizing sort of way. Sometimes she righted her head slightly, then tilted it again into the back cushion, as if to reassess the new perspective. Zelda was motionless, unrevealing; her focus consumed by Cynthia.  

“Cynthia,” Catherine called, “you know where everything is. If you want something, please dear, just take it.” Catherine looked down at me. “Scott, let’s go on the terrace. You can see most of Manhattan from there.”

I poured myself a half-glass of gin, took the bottle, and followed Catherine through a pair of French doors. She closed them behind us. I walked to the surrounding railing. The night had wrapped itself around Manhattan, and spots of light broke through from the streets below. It looked as if the heavens had been torn from the sky, and the stars and every wish made upon them lay bare in the streets. The world’s hope and reverie, unprotected from the disorder which trampled upon them, twinkled courageously and pitifully. I strained my eyes to find the bright future I had once placed there, but I found only a fading flicker, jumping chaotically. I looked closer and my concern deepened. I realized what had happened. The future no longer fueled the dying flame. I fell limp, stricken by shock and an overwhelming sentimentality. My past now was all that kept the fire alive.

Catherine sat in a rusted iron chair. I stood next to her and watched Zelda through the glass doors. Cynthia raised her head and rested her arm on the back cushion. Zelda looked up and saw me staring. She turned to Cynthia and gave her a smile. I folded my arms and shuffled uneasily. I looked down at Catherine who was silently watching the glowing and fading of Manhattan. 

I swallowed the last of the gin in the glass in my hand. I grabbed the bottle and lifted it. Catherine held the bottle steady as we poured me another drink. I sat on the table facing her and continued looking through the glass doors.

Cynthia’s body was now firmly against Zelda’s. Catherine turned and looked at the two women.

“Is this Zelda’s first time?”

“With a woman?” I replied, my gaze steadily fixed on what was going on in the next room.

“No, I meant the first time living in New York?” Catherine smiled. She rubbed the back of her hand against my thigh. “Don’t worry about Cynthia. She’s quite harmless and gentle. Zelda is in good hands.” She moved her chair back. She got up and stood between my legs, which dangled from the table.

“What about you, Scott? Would you like to be in good hands?” My eyes were fixed on Zelda. Her head was leaning slightly. Cynthia bent her head in the other direction and pressed her lips against Zelda’s neck.

Catherine ran her finger along the zipper of my pants. “You like what you see, don’t you, Scott?” I stretched my arms out behind me and put the palms of my hands flat on the table. I leaned back. I did like what I saw. It turned my stomach to imagine Zelda with Townsend, but with Cynthia it was different. My blood raced. I wanted Zelda more. Cynthia left her wanting for only what I could give her. Every kiss she felt was mine.

The pulsing of my body, which had begun so simple and strong, began to recede and left in its wake an unnerving quiver. My gut wrenched. Betrayal had seethed its way in. Zelda was a predictable, self-consumed woman. It was clear she wanted nothing more than to mock the wonder of a frightened and hopeless child. She placed her hands onto Cynthia’s back. Her head weaved softly in thoughtless swirls; each stillness steeped in a dreamy detachment. She glared at me as she nuzzled each kiss which fell on her. The gin had destroyed any rationality which had survived in me. An inner trembling appeared in its wake.

Catherine placed her hands on the fronts of the upper parts of my legs and stroked them gently. I glanced at her and directed my eyes again over her shoulder. I saw Zelda put her lips on Cynthia’s neck. I turned to Catherine. With her eyes penetrating mine, she began, slowly and steadily, to lower my zipper. Her back was facing the doors. Zelda couldn’t see exactly what was happening. I wanted nothing more than to shove her face into the torture she so readily found necessary for me. I let Catherine continue.

Cynthia pushed herself onto Zelda, who fell back against the arm of the couch. Cynthia moved her lips to the front of her lover’s neck. My wife, with a smile that had become a smirk, stared at Catherine and me through the doors.

Catherine stopped and looked up at me. She was silent, and her eyes lingered in the quiet.  She bent over. Her head dropped into my lap. The glass doors flew open. They bounced off the walls, nearly closing again, their panes rattling. Zelda rushed past us. Her eyes were blank and undirected. Her focus was distant, penetrating the surrounding blackness. She extended her arms and grabbed onto the terrace rail with both hands. Catherine and I rushed toward her, and we each took one of her arms. We pulled her back. Tears began to run down Zelda’s cheeks. I stood in front of her and put my arms around her, caressing her. Catherine went inside.

“Townsend, now Cynthia. I think it’s enough for one day,” I said, my words slurring. The room was spinning, and I moved my feet to walk and tried to find the floor.

“Let’s go. I want to go home,” she said.

She turned around, breaking my grasp. I began to stumble. I held on to the table. Zelda walked through the doors, and I tried to follow. After a few steps I lost my balance and fell into the open doorway. Catherine helped me to my feet. A small box containing the necklace had fallen out of my inside coat pocket. I saw the box on the floor, and I picked it up. Cynthia was still sitting on the couch. I turned to her and handed her the box. “This is for you,” I said, “I’m sure Zelda would want you to have it.”

Cynthia took the box and opened it. She removed the necklace and let it dangle from her finger. She gave me a puzzled look, and then glanced at Zelda, whose silent attention remained motionless on the gentle sway of the necklace. She looked at me and quickly turned back to Cynthia.

“There’s a matching set of earrings that go with that,” she said, “if you drop by, I’ll give them to you.”  She took a pen from her purse and wrote our address on the back of Cynthia’s hand. When she finished, she smiled and said, “My husband will be out next Wednesday.”

Zelda turned and looked at me, her face stern, her eyes unflinching.

“That’s right, isn’t it, Scott? You have another meeting with Ober as I recall.”

I didn’t answer.

She looked over at Catherine, who was standing off against the French doors.

“Maybe my husband can stop by and see you as well next Wednesday. He’ll be in the area.”  Zelda began walking toward the door. She smiled at Cynthia, stopped, and turned back to Catherine. “One warning, dear, just don’t bite off more than you can chew.”

Chapter IV.

 Dear Zelda,

… Finally you got well in Luau-les-Puis and a lot of money came in and I made of those mistakes literary men make – I thought I was a man of the world. –[sic] that everybody liked me and adored me for myself but I only liked a few people like Ernest and Charles Mc Arthur [sic] and Gerald and Sara who were my peers. Time goes bye [sic] fast in those moods and nothing is ever done. I thought then that things came easily – I forgot how I’d dragged the great Gatsby out of the pit of my stomach in a time of misery. I woke up in Hollywood no longer my egotistic, certain self but a mixture of Ernest in fine clothes and Gerald with a career – and Charlie Mc Arthur [sic] had a past. Anybody that could nourished [sic] from within make me believe that, like Lois Merau did, was precious to me.

[F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1930]

The color, a pleasing combination of the yellow daisies and purple Lavandula, rolled down the hill and disappeared magically into the waiting sand. It reemerged at the water’s edge and bled unnoticed into the azure beauty of the Mediterranean.

I made my way down the narrow dirt path, which started at the beginning of the flower garden and ended on the beach. Villa America stood behind me at the top of the hill. The Villa, located in Antibes in the South of France, was the summer residence of two friends, Gerald and Sara Murphy. They were the product of old money. Gerald’s only career, as far as I could determine, was to keep the villa’s beach front free of seaweed, which he raked judiciously at the end of each day.

My feet hit the soft, white sand, and I began to plod along, my shoes as ill-equipped as my mood for the strain. I walked toward the sea, watching its pawing waves breaking on the shore. When I reached the point where the advancing water lost its puissance and began to recede into the sea, I heard someone come up behind me. It was Gerald, rake in hand.

“Hey, old sport, how you feeling? “ He said while inspecting the sand. “Glad you decided to get out of bed to see the sun set.”

“If there’s anything anyone remembers about the Great Gatsby, it will be the words ‘old sport’,” I mumbled.

Gerald started to rake at strategically spotted seaweed hiding unsuccessfully beneath thinned layers of sand.

“As long as someone remembers it, what’s the difference?” he replied.

What’s the difference? The difference was all that mattered. Sales were poor, but, as Max would like to remind me: the reviewers liked it. The difference was that not one of them understood it. 

“Maybe the twenty-five-cent press can keep Gatsby alive,” I said.

Maybe Gatsby would survive on twenty-five cents a copy, but I know I couldn’t. The magazines were buying my short stories.  At $4,000 per story, I was the best paid whore in town. I had told Harold I wouldn’t accept any greater amount. I had started writing my fourth novel.    

Gerald stopped raking. A green, twisted ball of weeds remained unyielding.

“Sara told me that Zelda stayed at home to practice her ballet.”

“All she thinks about is ballet. We have ballet for breakfast. She’s destroying herself.”

Gerald began raking again with renewed vigor.

“How was your stay in Hollywood?” he asked.

“We got out of there as soon as we could.”

Gerald pulled on the rake which had bound itself firmly into the mass of seaweed.

“Scott, Zelda told Sara that something happened in Hollywood. She thinks it may have something to do with Zelda’s behavior of late.”

“You mean all the ballet? She does it because she is selfish. She ignores me.”

“Sara said she was seventeen. The actress you met in Hollywood… she was seventeen, right?” Gerald stopped and held on to the rake, supporting himself.

I lit up a cigarette, took a drag and looked at the blue, rippling plane of the sea. I followed its expanse until it reached the sky where it turned upward and continued its journey limitlessly into the heavens. I turned away from the comfort of the tableau and connected with Gerald’s eyes.

“Zelda was beautiful at seventeen,” I said, “and she thought she would be the same at seventy.” The truth was that at twenty-six it all started to fade. “I know what you’re thinking,” I said, “you think Lois is too young for me.” I was in my thirties.

Gerald directed his attention to the seaweed, whacking and pulling on it with the rake. I threw my cigarette into the sand. He continued working, appearing not to want to hear what I had to say. I started walking toward the dirt garden path. I turned around and raised my voice above the soft crash of the blue breaking on the beach. “She’s not too young for me”, I yelled, “I’m too old for her.” That was something Gerald and the world didn’t understand. No one, not even a selfish woman, can steal my dreams from me. I can start over and over again. Dreams are timeless.

When I came to the top of the path, the sun had begun to set, and the blue of the sea had started to fade. An uneasiness overwhelmed me. I needed a drink. I headed toward the yellow lights burning inside the villa. As I came closer, I saw the Joyces and Jean Cocteau sitting on the porch which protruded from the back of the house and extended along its entire width. James was sipping a drink and looking my way. Jean stood up.

“Scott, Sara said you were here somewhere.”

I reached the porch and started walking up the three wooden steps warped by the salty mist of the early morning and start of the evening. I had met Joyce about a month before at a dinner given by his publisher, Sylvia Beach. He was royalty in the literary world in Paris, and his novel, Ulysses, had achieved everything I had ever wanted. I walked up the stairs with Gatsby in tow. 

Jean stood up and shook my hand and said, “Have a seat, Scott. Tell us what you’re working on.”

Joyce placed his drink on the small round table standing between him and his wife. I nodded to her, and she nodded back. James, still seated, looked up at me.

“I read your stories in the Saturday Evening Post.”

I remained standing and motionless. The ensuing silence permeated my very core. It all said so much. I had nothing. The best thing I had written lay piled up in a warehouse. Zelda was entangled in her hopeless dream of ballet stardom, drifting farther and farther away.

“Gentlemen, I need a drink,” I said. I walked away, opened the door, and entered the house.

“Come back, Scott, I want to know what you’re working on,” James said. I pretended not to hear.

I entered the dining room where Sara was busily directing a maid who was setting the table.

“Scott,” Sara said, “do you want a drink? gin?” She went over to a sideboard and poured me a drink. I sat at the table. I took the corner seat next to an open window.

It wasn’t long before Joyce and his wife and Jean came in from the porch and took their seats at the table. They were followed by Gerald. Once everyone was seated, the converstion turned to who was doing what in the literary world in Paris.

I finished my drink, stood up, and threw the glass out of the window.

I returned to the table and took my seat.

“Sara,” I asked, “can I get another drink? Mine seems to have gotten away from me.”

Sara brought me another drink and a scowl reserved exclusively for my consumption. The conversation turned to Ernest’s latest work, The Sun Also Rises.

“It’s in its third or fourth printing as I understand it,” James said.

“The first printing sold out in two months. Scribner published it.” Jean said. “You had something to do with that, didn’t you, Scott?”

I raised my hand, grasping my glass. “To Ernest,” I said, lifting my hand higher.

I finished my drink and tossed the glass out of the window again, this time never leaving the table. It crashed on the front sidewalk. Everyone looked up and gave me quick glances. Mrs. Joyce redirected her attention back to her empty plate, keeping her eyes glued to nothing. Jean cast his eyes down and shook his head. What balls he had!

I stared through the yellow of the cottony, dull light which engulfed the room. Before Jean raised his eyes, I threw what I knew in his face.

“Do you prefer I use the pipe?”

James put his hands on the table. He braced himself and snapped, ”Scott.”

Jean picked up his glass of wine, and turned his head in a slow, controlled manner toward James.

“No, no,” Jean said, “it’s quite alright.”

He took a savory sip and placed his glass carefully back on the table. He pressed his lips together, drawing out the last bit of merlot that may have remained. I stared at James as I took a good swallow of my gin. I felt Jean’s eyes on me.  

“I’m weaning myself off,” Jean said, “Opium is more addictive than alcohol.”

I placed my glass on the table and rocked it back-and-forth. The room was quiet except for the muffled tap of each teeter of my glass landing on the cloth covered table. I kept my eyes on the pitching of the glass and listened to the ticking of my patience. I broke the silence.

“That’s not what Ernest and Pablo told me. They saw you and the rest of those fairies toking it up at Le Boeuf.”

“Scott, your drunk,” James interjected, his tone terse and large.

“Thank god for that,” I replied.

Jean brought his head down slightly and looked at me through his lashes.

“James,” he said, “please let our friend speak.”

Jean, so sure of himself. The better man. I wanted nothing more than to reach out from the dizziness and pull him into my unruly world. I would hit him where it would hurt the most.

“Jean,” I said, “I saw your play, Parade. It was quite a fantasy. A bit difficult to follow, but I’m sure there must be truth somewhere in there.” His attention centered on me. He paused and leaned forward, resting his arms on the table.

“It was all rooted in sober reality,” he retorted. “Something, I would guess, that often eludes you.”

Jean hotly opposed the burgeoning avant-garde movement. After his play, Parade, opened in Paris, it became clear, at least to everyone but Jean, that the work was an obscure presentation. In fact, the production brought a new word into the French language, a description of a genre, surréalisme, of which Jean was, to his greatest shame and dismay, a self-disavowing purveyor. Jean hated the appellation. He wanted to be known simply as a poet. I raised my head, directed my eyes on him, stiffened my closed lips, and blurted out like an arrow to the heart, “You, sir, are a surrealist.”

Jean shot out of his chair, threw his napkin on the table, and began shouting in French. He was spouting words so quickly I didn’t understand what he was saying. James got up and put his hand on Jean’s shoulder, trying to calm him, but to no avail.  

I walked to the window, put my legs through and sat on the sill. With one good push I launched myself onto the sidewalk a few feet below.

The night’s darkness had taken grip. I tried to free myself from it, running along the sidewalk and turning toward the beach. Bright yellow light streamed from the villa’s windows lighting the way. I reached the back and headed for the dirt garden path. The villa’s light shrank to a faint glow. The color I had seen earlier at the top of the hill had faded into blackness. I found the path and stepped quickly, fumbling and tripping my way down toward the beach. When I felt the sand beneath my feet, I looked at the sea and strained to discern the azure which I had seen only hours ago. The Mediterranean was black and dark.

From the top of the hill, I heard Lois calling,” Scott, come back, come back.” I looked up and realized it was Sara. “Scott, what are you doing down there. Come back inside.”

She was right. I needed to go back. I needed to see the color of the flowers and the blue of the sea. I lay down on the sand, stretched out, and waited for it all to come back.


Don Donato received a Masters of Liberal Arts in Creative Writing and Literature from Harvard University, College of Extended studies, in 2019. His graduate interest was studying the writing of the Lost Generation living in Paris in the 1920’s. In addition to short stories published in various journals, Don has written a novella, In the Faded Blue Light, in the voice and style of F. Scott Fitzgerald in the form of “memoir.”

Don Donato: Dod401@Alumni.Harvard.edu

In the Faded Blue Light

By Don Donato


for Zelda and Nathalie
— Souvenez-vous de Paris

NOTE: Presented here are the first two chapters of an eight-part novella — continuing in the fall issue.

Chapter I.

 No personality as strong as Zelda’s could go without getting criticisms and as you say she is not above approach [sic]. I’ve always known that. Any girl who gets stewed in public, who frankly enjoys and tells shocking stories, who smokes constantly and makes the remark that she has ‘kissed thousands of men and intends to kiss thousands more,’ cannot be considered beyond reproach even if above it. But Isabelle I fell in love with her courage, her sincerity and her flaming self respect and its [sic] these things I’d believe in even if the whole world indulged in wild suspicions that she wasn’t all that she should be.

But of course the real reason, Isabelle, is that I love her and that’s the beginning and the end of everything. You’re still a Catholic but Zelda’s the only God I have left now.

[F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1920]


Note: All excerpts from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s letters appear as they were written. Many of the errors are not annotated with [sic].

It was late in the morning when I needed to change trains in California on my way to a wayward piece of Los Angeles. I was bound for an appreciating tract of unreal estate known as Hollywood, a shining lure for believers in far-flung dreams, a district of hope for talentless “would be” actors and washed-up novelists. It always seemed fitting that a place of such tenuous promise should be situated in California, a strip of land teetering on a faulty line between gaiety and annihilation. A place where, for nearly a century, the wide-eyed have brought their fantasies and well-concealed desperation. 

I had taken a seat on a hard-wooden bench situated under the station’s eves, successfully hidden from the boorish California sun. A weedy man with a swarthy complexion covering tight, leathery skin, sitting close-by, looked up and caught my indolent stare.

“You must be from the East,” he said. “You’re from the East, right? I can tell by the lack of color in your face.”

He proceeded to introduce himself, and I feared he was about to try and sell me one of those parched, sand covered lots somewhere far from civilization for the purpose of bringing vitality to the city bound. I pretended he was speaking to someone else and reached for my newspaper. He walked toward me and took the adjacent seat. I held the paper in both hands to discourage any intention he might have had of shaking my hand.

“Paul Paulson’s the name. You new in these parts?”

It wasn’t my first trip to Hollywood. Ten years ago, I had accepted an offer from a producer to take up residence in a studio cottage to write about the “Jazz Age.”  Zelda, my wife, and I left Paris, and I attempted, as commissioned, to create a “flapper comedy.” I was, indeed, a product of the Jazz Age, perhaps, as some have said, in gauche praise or hardened accusation, that I created it. Even so, I don’t think I could have attempted to recapture such a time without Zelda. She was a flapper to her very depth.

“Yes,” I lied to the prune of a man sitting next to me. “I’m en route to a plot of desert land I purchased a while ago for the purpose of improving my faded appearance and overall health.”

“You missed it you know,” he replied.

I looked at him blankly.

“The train, you missed it.”

I pulled my watch from my vest pocket.

“It’s only 2:25. I’m waiting for the 2:40.” I put the timepiece to my ear.

“There’s nothing wrong with your watch.  You missed it.”

My watch was ticking. That brown stick of a man was right. I missed it. Not all the hope the world has ever known would bring it back. He sat as close to me now as the painted les femmes who had strolled passed me on the Boulevard du Montparnasse. Their bodies glowing proper and their desire spilling out through closed-lip smiles. In the soft blue light of a new Paris evening I had sat at a table set outside the café Le Select. Gatsby, my latest character, recently had left me. He was about to make his way in the world. I waited to hear what others would think of him. I have always envied him. His life relived each and every time someone finds him on a dusty, bookseller’s shelf. Certainly, each time his life would end in tragedy. No matter. He would try again and again. 

“Is there another train?” I shouted at the man.

“There’s always another train, but the one you’re waiting for is gone. It came early.”

I thought I heard the train coming. I rushed to the precipice of the platform and looked back down the track as far as I could.  Nothing was there. I could have sworn I heard it. The man yelled to me,” It doesn’t come from that direction.” When I turned toward the pedantic son of a bitch to tell him to mind his own business, I found him engrossed in my newspaper. I resolved to remain standing at the platform’s edge, waiting, looking back down the tracks.

After a while, the tracks began to rattle, and the 3:10, coming from the other direction, started to come into view. It approached the station, slowly but steadily. Its slowing wheels squealed against the metal rails like an overweight hog. The engine blasted air from its undercarriage, and my suit jacket blew open. An older woman held her hat down and shielded her face. The wind burst again. I bent my head down to keep the blown dust out of my eyes. There was an enigmatic clang, and the beast lumbered to a stop.

I feigned tying my shoe and watched the would-be land salesman board. I entered a car several away from him with my spirit lagging pitifully behind. It was in Hollywood where I hoped to turn things around. The money was good, 1,000 dollars a week for creating screenplays, a form of writing similar to the novel minus meaning, feeling, and thought.  Nevertheless, it afforded enough to keep Zelda in Asheville Psychiatric Hospital, and, allowed me to devote time to writing seriously again. I had an idea for a new novel. But, in spite of all this, each day my mood turned grayer and darker. Zelda weighed heavily on me. At the end of each day, the light fading slowly and sweetly with invitation, Zelda’s voice jingled again in the streets of Paris.

“Scott, Scott, let’s have a drink here. We’ve never been. Come on. Maybe someone will recognize us. Come on. We’ll drive them all crazy. We’ll kiss and carry on like they have never seen, not even in Paris. Come on, it’ll be fun.” It was hard to refuse Zelda. Her voice thrilled with an excitement which promised so much.

“Inside or out?” I replied. 

Her eyes widened, and I felt her spirit leap. I abandoned any notion of sinking into a few drinks, into a placid place, waiting and wondering if my telegram reached Max soon enough.  I wanted to change the proposed title for my new novel, which, at that moment, sat perilously at the edge of a no-nonsense printing press. I was crazy about my new title, Under the Red, White, and Blue. Max was satisfied with calling it The Great Gatsby. It never made any sense to me. There’s no emphasis, even ironically, on Gatsby’s greatness or lack of it. My new title told the story. That’s what it’s about: lost dreams in the midst of such hopeless hope. Zelda grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the entrance of the café.

“Outside, of course,” she answered, “much more scandalous. Maybe we’ll make the US papers, and Max’ll send you another letter.”

“Max has my, our, best interest, always,” I blurted out as we rushed off the street into the gathering of tables.

“Oh, he never has any fun, so he doesn’t want anyone to have any. Who cares what people think of us. What you write sells books, not who you are. Right? Right?”

“People want to believe what they read. Who can believe a drunk with an out-of-control wife?”

“Out of control? Who’s out of control?” She whipped her head toward me, and without pause, quickly redirected it to the waiter watching us from beneath the awning.

“Monsieur,” she said, her voice rose a tone. Monsieur.”  The waiter stepped out onto the street into the full dimness and warmth of the early Paris evening. A few patrons turned their heads. Some faces struck still. A woman, dressed fine and rich, turned to the gentleman sitting next to her, and whispered in his ear. He looked up, and he caught my stare.

Monsieur.” Zelda’s words now shrill. “Monsieur, a table for two. Mr. Fitzgerald and I prefer the outside. S’il vous plait.”

The waiter nodded. We followed him. The gaiety of the City’s faded blue light, promising a never-ending life of playful glances and soft laughter, peeked in as we made our way under the awning, passing among the circle-shaped tabletops. A man with a white walking cane dangling from his table, jerked his head up. His expression was tight. He looked down, adjusting the balance of his cane as he stared at its imaginary teeter. He held his head in a strict focus away from my direction. He waved to the waiter, who promptly brought his check.   

Zelda paid no attention to the uneasiness which had begun to ripple around us.

“I’ m sorry, I never, I just never…,” Zelda repeated over and over, her Alabama drawl driving and twisting each word as we bumped and ricocheted our way through the narrow table passages. Embarrassment on empathetic faces brought my eyes down. We gathered momentum as we passed between tables. With a sudden stop, Zelda landed in a chair, bounced up, and settled down with her body slightly quivering.

“I don’t care. Let’s have a few drinks and make love in public,” she said, her aging face locked stolidly before my eyes. At seventeen her beauty caused contriving, young men to meet her “unexpectedly” wherever they expected her to be. Their only wish was to share a hopeful word or two with her. She rarely touched a door or moved a chair.  She rewarded her would-be suitors with a sweet smile, followed by a glance from long-lashed eyes which she quickly hid behind a fan of Southern charm.

I stepped quicker and began to stumble. With a reckless and defeated heave, I fell into a seat next to everything that kept a fire burning somewhere inside me. I hadn’t yet regained my balance, when Zelda grabbed the lapel of my coat. “Kiss me wildly,” she said. I pulled her closer and put my hand on her knee. She lay her hand on mine and moved it inward and higher. The eyes of two courtly women darted back and forth from each other to the unfolding scandal with a syncopated rhythm of the Jazz Age. Others shrank into open-mouthed children while they pretended not to notice.

 I grasped her face, holding it motionless. The evening light fell silent to the ambient hum of increasing conversation. For a moment, beneath the titillation, beyond the boundaries of  propriety imposed by self-protective righteousness, we were what the world wanted most: the excitement of the forbidden; a glimpse of hope in the mundane; perhaps a morsel of a lost memory; and, in all its non-yielding desperation, the reality of fantasy.

 I took a seat by a window, settled in, and the train began to crawl away from the platform. The speed picked up and I watched through the window the occasional houses, made miniature by acres of buffering California farmland, pass-by at ever increasing speed. A vineyard came into sight, then quickly receded, dragging my eyes along until it disappeared. The snarled vines remained in my mind and reached so deep that my body tingled and my eyes filled. I wanted to jump out and run back and follow those vines back to where I first saw them on the train going to Lyon from Paris.

On that day I had travelled to Lyon, I was to be accompanied by a fellow whom I had met a few days before in a bar in Paris. He was a writer, but he hadn’t published much at that time. I had read a few of his stories which appeared in some European magazines, and I could see he had great talent. He was a well-built man, rather tall with a sturdy body and flaring ears. His unbuttoned vest matched his woolen sports-jacket and his white button-down shirt was wrinkled and its collar splayed open revealing chest hair.

He spoke to everyone in a low tone while scrutinizing their faces. I always wondered what he was looking for. His eyes exuded a confidence bordering on conceit that promised that whatever he found was assuredly an unspoken object of criticism. 

He insisted I call him Ernest. He hated Ernie. In all truth I hated it as well. It had a way of grinding him into the top layer of the earth’s soil where the masses spent their lives — lost and unaware.  For reasons still unknown to me, save the interpersonal tightness induced by the better part of a bottle of Beaune, Ernest consented to come with me to Lyon to pick up my car. It had broken down when Zelda, I and Scotty, our daughter, had attempted to drive to Paris from Antibes. We continued our trip to Paris by train and had to leave the car in Lyon for repairs.

After drinking the better part of the night away, Ernest and I had agreed to meet at the station a few days later and take the early train to Lyon. Through no fault of my own, I missed that train. Ernest went to Lyon, as planned. I arrived on a later train. He had called my apartment several times while waiting for me at the station. He had spoken to my housekeeper. I had told her to tell him I wasn’t at home.

When I reached Lyon, I went directly to the hotel bar to settle what was left of my nerves. Ernest walked in.

“Where the hell you been? I checked every hotel bar in Lyon,” he said.

“I must apologize. The time got away from me, and I missed the train. I was going to come looking for you, but I wanted a drink first.”

Ernest stood next to me at the bar. “And second, and third, and… which one is this?”

“Barkeep, un pour mon ami.” I turned to Ernest. “Bourbon or are you drinking the hard stuff?”

“I never touch absinth outside of Paris. Can’t trust it anywhere else.”

“Okay, bourbon it is.” The bartender brought a bottle and filled the shot to the brim.

“Scott, what happened? Were you tight and fell asleep somewhere?”

“Sleep. I wish I could sleep once in a while.” I pulled a vial from my coat pocket. “I need this stuff to maybe get some sleep.”

Ernest brought the glass carefully to his lips.

“I was working,” I said, “a deadline for a story.” 

Ernest lowered the empty glass to the bar, his fingers still wrapped around it. He barked at the bartender, “Another bourbon.”

He looked at me. “Are you a reporter now?”

He didn’t believe my story, and it was just that, a story, fiction, the stuff which lives in my head like so many orphans. This wayward child wound up in Ernest’s incredibility. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him the truth. I couldn’t tell him that it was Zelda, who was unraveling like an overwound clock. She wouldn’t settle down. She kept throwing things, whining, crying, screaming. 

A few months prior, in the south of France, she had some screaming episodes when she was drunk, but I thought it came from her insatiable need for attention. I was writing day and night then. Some sober talk eventually calmed her, but this time she wouldn’t listen to me. I grabbed her. She broke free and tried to run out. I caught up with her at the door.  I couldn’t trust to leave her alone with the housekeeper. I called this doctor I had met in Le Select a few nights before. He said if I ever needed anything…. He gave Zelda an injection of morphine. It put her to sleep. That was the first time she needed the morphine to bring her back. It soon became a regular affair.

Ernest had not yet met Zelda, and I hadn’t spoken much about her. He struck me as a serious writer. I knew his work, and it was the real thing. I wanted to know him better before explaining the terrible strain my marriage had become. Zelda was restless. She missed the constant swirl of party-filled nights we spent in New York. Like all flappers she lived in a world which danced the Charleston perpetually.

At that time, when I first met Ernest, Zelda and I were living in Paris, an extraordinary timeless place where characters lingered on every corner, and night-lit cafés offered a home for the light-hearted while giving refuge to the lifeless.  It was a time when Zelda’s words still sparkled, and her voice vibrated with thrilling alarm created by the flame burning inside her. She lived life as a fairytale, a series of frivolous adventures in a world which allowed her to romp like a child in an amusement park, her beauty, her only ticket of admission. At seventeen she was the most beautiful woman I had ever known, but time had taken hold. What was once her carte blanche to life, at age twenty-six had begun to wane. Her reality beginning to trail listlessly behind.

 We found each other at an early age when I was a young Army officer stationed in Montgomery, Alabama. She was the last of a type known as the Southern belle: a rich, young beauty who manipulated the whims and fantasies of infatuated young men. I was no exception.

 The boys at Camp Sheridan were invited to a country club dance in Montgomery. The War was in full swing in Europe and we waited for our orders to come through. We knew where we were going. There were rumors about the Argonne Forest in France.

One officer, who had returned from the front, spent some time on the base before he could hitch a ride back to one of those farm states, Iowa or Idaho. He wanted to spend the rest of his life there on a small farm his father had left him. He had lost his right arm and several fingers from his left. In some deep part of me, I knew why he wanted to go back to that farm.  What he had lost in France was no matter. He wanted to find the parts of himself he had left in the rows of plowed soil and in the air that smelled of freshly turned earth.  He wanted only again to loosen familiar ground and find the dreams buried by a young boy. He took mess with the enlisted men. He had lost his taste for privilege.  As we walked together one day, he told a bunch of us, “When men die, they all die equally.”

We reached the entrance of the mess hall, and the group followed the wounded man in. I trailed behind and watched them disappear into the building. I walked a little closer and stopped a fair distance from the door. My orders were sitting on some General’s desk waiting for his signature to send me into, perhaps, the last days of my life. I began to sweat, and my hands trembled. I pushed and pulled on my damp shirt. I took a step back and then another and another. I saw the door open and someone was waving to me to come. I turned away. It wasn’t death I feared. It was the idea that all men die equally which haunted me. I had to re-write my novel and get it published. I headed to the officers’ dining club.

During my free time on the weekends I had written enough pages of some disjointed ramblings to convince myself I had a novel. I called it the Romantic Egoist and sent it to Scribner Publishing. I had made the contact through a friend who knew the editor, Max Perkins. He liked the idea, but he had objections and suggestions that needed to be made if I ever had any chance of publication. I had written for the Tiger and the Nassau Review at Princeton, but Perkins wanted something different. He wanted it all to make some deeper sense. The story was inspired by my life as a student at Princeton. How much sense could I make of that?

The War ended, and I was discharged. I wanted nothing more than to have what I had written, what I thought was a novel, published. I went back to Minnesota to try to find out what Perkins was talking about. Something was different there in the Mid-west. It was something the East had discarded or, perhaps ignored, and through no fault of its own, died of neglect.

St. Paul hadn’t changed much. The same barber shop I went to as a young boy was still in operation, and I suspected some of my locks could be found stuck in a floor crack. On the edge of town stood the wheat fields, golden and swaying in the wind, still waiting for harvest since the time I last had seen them as a much younger man.

 At Princeton I had belonged to the Cottage Club, a college fraternity of sorts. The only thing we ever grew was ambition. I associated with a group on campus known as the writers, the literary set. Edmund Wilson had the most promise. We called him “Bunny.”

“You still working on that play for the Triangle Club, Scott? Bunny said one day as we walked up Nassau street on our way to the Yankee Doodle Tap Room.

“Yep. What are you working on these days, the Great American Novel? You got the best shot you know.”

“Always with your head in the clouds, Scott. Maybe someday you’ll write that novel. It will catapult your name to the lips of every literature professor in every University in America, even Princeton. On second thought, maybe you should wait until Professor Gauss is dead. He might remember you.”

Secretly, I dreamed of nothing less. I knew I was a good writer back then, not as good as Bunny, but good, and I got better. It’s like I told Zelda many years later, “I’m a professional writer. You are not. Writers like me are one in ten million.” However, neither I nor Bunny ever wrote that Great American Novel. Maybe Bunny was right, I should keep my head out of the clouds, but I never could. It was there in the haze of the seemingly unreachable I wrote four novels and married the belle of my dreams.

 It was in Minnesota, while working on my first novel, in the frozen ground I felt unyielding beneath my feet, I became aware of what I had learned at Princeton. Success in America had become the compromise of ideals, rather than its progeny. I had come to realize that my generation had entered a time in which wealth supplanted the self, and righteousness had given way to opportunism. No character suffered more from this realization, five years later, than Jay Gatsby. By that time, hope had become the pre-occupation of the misinformed, and dreams the fertile ground for the cynical.

 I re-wrote my novel. The title changed to This Side of Paradise, and Scribner published it. It was in the time when excitement exuded from my overwhelming dreams, when disjointed feelings crashed brutishly onto blank pages. It was the time when my rarified reality, honed and nurtured in the sweet field of my homegrown truths, started to take root.   

  I had never been to a country club and the sound of it held me captive. The thick crop of its influential harvest held a sway that lifted me into the warm, close air puffed from half-lit, dollar cigars. I had written to a friend at Princeton who had lived in Alabama in the cushion of soft money. He had given me the names of a few of the “fastest” debutantes in Montgomery. As is often the case with young college men, the purported looseness of female prospects is surely more the imaginary and misguided information of virgin liars. As a consequence, my mind and fantasies remained opened.

 It was that night that I first saw Zelda. She was walking across the dance floor arm-in-arm with two female partners, who by all indications, provided more than moral support. She was the most beautiful girl of whitish-pink skin. Her auburn hair was bobbed with enough audacity to send it into large curls, bouncing recklessly. Every eye was on her. The men moved in anticipation to where she was going, and the women fanned themselves with quick flutters and bustled aimlessly. 

She had my full attention. A young sergeant I had known on the post nudged me. He had poked around the town on a few weekends, and he had heard a few things, especially about who was who in Montgomery. I dropped my stare to just catch him in the corner of my eye.

“She’s the brass ring around here, they tell me”, he said. “Every guy in Montgomery wants to marry her. She’s old Alabama money. She even lives on a street named for her family. You’re out of your league here Lieutenant.”

“Out of my league?” I heard myself repeating the words rushing from inside me. My eyes never left her.

“Lieutenant, forget it… unless you got some money that I don’t know about. If you do, then you still owe me two bucks from that card game you should have stayed out of last week.”

My eyes never moved. Her curls bounced like words which no one could ever write. Each loose winding of hair jumped to tell a story propelled by boundless energy and full of endless promises.

“What else do you know about her?” I said to the Sergeant.

“Not much, but there’s s girl I met here before who probably can tell you more. Her last name is Bankhead. I can’t remember her first name. It sounds like Matilda or something… Tallulah, that’s it.” The Sergeant glanced around the room, “There she is.”

He raised his head in her direction. “Tallulah, Tallulah,” he said in a voice loud enough to carry above the discordant chatter in the room. He waved her over.

A young woman with wavy brown hair extending to her shoulders appeared at his side.

“Well, hello, again Sergeant,” I heard from a husky voice. She spoke and moved with the subtle swing of the country club type. Her words had a sureness which came from a perpetual source of gratuitous wealth. 

“You seem to be a man with something on his mind,” she said, scrutinizing the Sergeant. “I like that kind of man. What can I do for you? … Careful, I’ve heard it all before… and tried most of it.”

My eyes were still locked on the tipsy, curled-hair debutante.

“The Lieutenant here wants to know more about her,” the Sergeant said to Tallulah, giving a quick nod toward the girl of my focus.

I felt Tallulah’s eyes fall on me. I never turned my head.

“Nice to meet you,” I murmured, “I’m Scott. I, I just…..”

“Oh her,” Tallulah said, “Booze, cigarettes and boys. And not necessarily in that order.”

Zelda still wandered about flanked by her supporters. She was returning smiles to passing men, some of whom I presumed to be suitors and others whose time had come and gone. Tallulah, her face falling motionless, paused and again directed her eyes to Zelda. Her voice fell almost to a whisper, “she’s always talking about making it big somewhere. She’s a dancer you know.”

“Lieutenant, I’m going to cruise around. I’ll catch you later,” the Sergeant said.

I turned to Tallulah. She was quite attractive. She glowed with a polish afforded only to those who commit themselves to the never-ending care demanded by social standing and made possible by the servitude of purposeless money. I directed my eyes back to Zelda.

“What’s her name?” I asked.

Of all the questions I wished to ask, this was the only one which reached my lips. The others I answered for myself in the way children create reality from far-flung fantasy.

“Why don’t you ask her yourself, Lieutenant?”

Tallulah strolled slowly toward the three women. When she reached the trio, a neat, lanky fellow with gray shoes with white wingtips approached the tipsy, pinkish debutante. His suit was a checkered affair. I was sure I had seen one just like it in one of those men magazines I was forced to read while waiting to get my hair cut. His trousers sported creases with the sharpness of a pretension matched only by his good manners. He took Zelda’s hand, kissed it. He then bowed slightly, acknowledging the flanking ladies-in-waiting. Zelda grazed his cheek with the back of her hand without a word. He uttered something. She shook her head and smiled and turned toward Tallulah, whose back was toward me. She pointed at me over her shoulder. Zelda lifted her eyes in my direction. I stared down at the floor. When I looked up, my mind fumbled. What had seemed so distant, came nearer.  Unassisted, she floated toward me, her path unwavering, her momentum unstoppable. She washed over me like a moonlit tide making its way farther and farther ashore. Her curls chattered without pause as she moved, and, as she came closer, I was struck by the lack of flaws in her skin, unblemished and undisturbed by ordinary life. Her face was composed of a calm beauty, an extraordinary simplicity and concert found in art born from subtle genius.

  She rested within a breath’s warmth of me. I wanted to speak, but my words hardened in my mouth. Without hesitation the great Lieutenant Scott Fitzgerald moved me aside and stepped forward. The smell of the leather of his boots, the secure cinch of the belt from his waist coat, and the proud protrusion of the brim of his peaked cap gave him all the confidence I envied. His words fell from my mouth.

“Scott Fitzgerald. Lieutenant Scott Fitzgerald. The pleasure is all mine.”

His smile continued speaking. It had all the invitation of a million words. His riveted eyes glistened. They were eyes which said you excite me like someone I have treasured from the time I first had met you. I wanted to take her in and show her how much he could offer her. The young belle’s eyes danced around the room with all the pretense of searching for better prospects. She abruptly turned in my direction, paused, and her voice rose, unnaturally, as if startled by an unexpected burst from an awakened star. Clearly, simply and forever, she said, “I’m Zelda.”

Not a muscle in my body stirred. I observed her every movement, looking for any hint of what she was thinking. I stood more erect. Her nearness shot through me. I rose higher and higher. The well-healed men and the polished women, scattered about the room, blended with each other, sweeping me into the mix. I knew for the first time how it felt to be a man of the world. The air grew still around me, and nothing moved but time.  It wound itself back. The house in which I had grown up in Minnesota crumbled into a ghastly phantasm. My parents no longer had claim to me. The man made of golden images and flawless manners, the man who had lived in the mind of a young boy, broke out with unprecedented vigor. In that moment I was certain that the truths of my promises had so materialized that they existed outside of me. The girl with pink skin and audacious hair, who now stood so close, became forever part of the rock formed from igneous dreams.

 I fumbled to keep her engaged.

“I heard you want to be a dancer,” I said.

She gave me a look. She appeared puzzled.

“I am a dancer,” she replied.

“I just meant a very successful one, on the stage as a big star someday.”

“New York, first,” she said. It knocked me back. It was the way she said it. It was familiar and unmistakable. It came from someone too large for the world which contained her. 

“The Russian ballet, of course, is the best, but New York and Europe will let me show my talent.”    

I had loved a socialite once before. She was a woman of my station, but she saw only a blurry-eyed Princeton student. Her rank and money had numbed her to the reality of belief. “Rich girls don’t marry poor boys,” she had told me.

I have come to realize that in fields of plenty, hope withers. The rich have no need for what might be… but, the girl who stumbled, whose hair curled in search of something beyond her reach, stepped upon fairy wings to find her footing. With each uncertain step she took, she hammered squarely the truth in a way which I had discovered so innocently many years ago hiding in the dust of a genie’s lamp.   

The band began to play a waltz. It was late, and I suspected this was perhaps the last waltz.

“Would you like to dance,” I said.

“My card is exceptionally full this evening. I’m sorry, but I’m promised to others.”

“Think of it as a contribution to the war effort,” I interjected. I struggled to keep my smile, which threatened to break in to a thousand pieces.  “I’m going overseas soon,” I added.

She looked at me a for a moment and a smile escaped to her lips.

“Never let it be said that I didn’t do my part to defeat the Kaiser,” she replied.

She opened her arms, and we touched. She was softer than I remembered women to be. Her body moved to the rhythm of the music, but, somewhere beneath that, in those moments of stillness, she held on tightly like a little girl. It was in those moments, I pressed her closer and held her in a way, I was sure, she had never known.  

The music stopped.

“I want to see you again,” I said

“I’ll be here next Saturday afternoon. I like to swim. Come back then, you will be my guest,” she said.

“It’s a date, next Saturday.”

She started to walk away, stopped, and put her hand near her mouth to shield her words.

“Bring some gin,” she added.

I watched her walk away.

“Lieutenant,” I heard someone say. It was the Sergeant approaching quickly from my flank. “Do you think it would be okay if I took a look at that list you got?”

 I had forgotten about it. Every guy in camp wanted a peek at it. I kept it hidden. It was a perquisite meant for those for whom untoward behavior could compensate for stunted dreams. The thought of going to the War, unfortunately, had made everyone a candidate, so I kept the sought-after list secure on my person at all times.

 I took the list from my breast pocket and handed it to the Sergeant. My eyes never left Zelda as she walked toward the door. The Sergeant turned to see what occupied my attention. He looked down sharply and perused the list.

“Lieutenant, she ain’t on it.”

“Who,” I said, turning my head just slightly in his direction.

The Sergeant lifted his eyebrows in Zelda’s direction.

“I know that,” I said.

“Are you going to see her again?”

There was never anything again that I was ever so sure of.  It no longer mattered that I was going to war. Perhaps it would all come to an end in the mud of France with nothing more ahead but the hazy fog of the Argonne Forest, but, on that night, in the dry breezes of the unassuming South, my past had begun in the way I had always known it would.   

“I think this one girl, Amanda Greggs, is here,” Sarge said, smiling a little. “You’re not going to pull rank on me, are you, Lieutenant? “

“No, no old man, she’s all yours.” The Sergeant started to walk away. He turned and looked back at me.

“I would hate to see a good list like this go to waste,” he said.

“Waste? No. It told me everything I needed to know.” What I didn’t know was that it told me only what I had hoped.

A few years later, in the days in Paris, when Zelda practiced her ballet relentlessly, I couldn’t help but think of that day in Montgomery when she floated to me. In Paris, alone in her room and at Mdm. Egorova’s studio, she twisted and strained, drifting farther from me, deeper and deeper into herself. She had new loves: ballet, Madame Egorova, and a prima ballerina, whom, at first, I knew only as “a dancer from the studio.” Later I learned her name was Lucienne. She had become Zelda’s new friend, frequenting cafés together afterhours.

I spent my nights at the Ritz bar, talking to persons I hardly knew. Some of them had heard of me, and some I had to inform. The gin gave me the courage to look them in the eyes and tell them with all the conviction of carnival barker that I was a writer, a real one, a novelist. “I wrote This Side of Paradise,” I would say. “I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Did you read it? Well, you must. I finished my third a few years ago. It’s called The Great Gatsby.  Now if you have read that one, I’ll buy you a drink.” 

I hardly ever had to buy that drink. Maybe Max was right. Maybe I should have developed Gatsby’s character more. No one knew who he was, but I knew who he was. In all truth, he really wasn’t anyone, not anyone at all.  He was a guy who bought drinks for people he didn’t even know.

On one of those lonely nights, a couple, dressed American, pushed up against the bar to my right. They wore jewelry, too much of it. His cuff links had initials. Her pearls dangled below her breasts as a testament to a string of martyred oysters. It was a time of seemingly forever, burgeoning wealth in America.

The gentleman stood back away from his bill lying on the bar. He cocked his head, tensed his face, and held his lips in a frown, as if protesting, with the upmost constraint, the sheer banality and personal intrusion of having to sign his name.  She sipped her coffee, legs crossed, her upper body straight and stiff. Their every movement had the theatrics of poorly scripted gentility and all the telltale crispness of new money. They were the new America. They stood for nothing, and they asked for everything. I moved closer and stood next to them.

It was a rare evening. The prolific Ernest Hemingway graced our presence with Gerald Murphy trailing behind him. Gerald was a man with no career, and he had everything to show for it. His fortune grew like wheat in the old lush fields of family businesses and was cultivated by personal indifference to it.

Ernest, dressed like a beggar, no jacket, no tie, his shirt sleeves rolled to his forearms, put his hand on my shoulder. I turned around. I took a step toward Gerald, and Hemingway’s hand lifted off me. There was enough talk about us. I loved the man, but not in that way. For some reason, a rumor started that Ernest and I were fairies. This firestorm of conjecture was started by McAlmon, a fag himself. Rumors, as rumors go, are usually at least half true. 

Gerald stood next to me at the bar.

“Hello, old man, how’s it going? It’s been a while,” Gerald said. “You and Zelda are in the papers quite a bit these days.”

“Don’t believe everything you read,” I said.

Ernest, now standing on the other side of me, leaned forward, like I was some object of inconsequence, and looked at Gerald.

“That’s true, my friend, good advice. Have you read his latest, The Great Gatsby?”

“It was really quite good, Scott,” Gerald said, his voice oscillating in frequencies and short pauses like a mother looking at her child’s penciled drawings.

“Leave him out of this,” I said, staring straight ahead at the bottles behind the bar.

“Who?” Gerald said.

“Gatsby,” I replied.

There was a momentary silence that rumbled through. I took down the glass of gin, sitting in front of me. The room was quiet. Ernest and Gerald faded away. The gin had done its job, and I felt numb to what the world wanted me to be – nothing, nothing at all.

Ernest broke the silence. “Scott, I heard you were looking for me. What did you want to see me about?”

“Barkeep,” I said, “another glass of gin.”

“Mr. Fitzgerald, another glass, sir?”

Gerald spoke up, getting the bartender’s attention. “He doesn’t need another glass.”  

The young man behind the bar looked at me with a wide-eyed stare.

“The man’s right,” I said to the young barkeep. His eyes relaxed, but for only a moment. “Bring me the god damn bottle.”

 “Very generous of you, old sport,” Ernest said. “Did I get that right? I liked the way Gatsby called his friend and enemies ‘old sport.’”

I turned to Ernest, dropped my eyes. My stare penetrated through my eyebrows. “I told you, leave him out of this.”

“Sorry about that old sp…man.”

Gerald ordered a beer. The bartender brought a glass for Ernest, and he put the bottle of gin between us. I poured myself a drink, grabbed the bottle, and put it on the other side of me.

“So, what do you want to see me about?” Ernest asked.

“Just to have a drink together. I can’t seem to write much these days. Some magazine stuff, that’s about it. And there’s another thing. No one I have asked knows where you live. Even Gerald doesn’t know where your new apartment is.” I turned and looked at Gerald. He lifted his beer and took a long, small sip, and then rested the glass back on the bar, never facing me. I made a half-turn toward Ernest and leaned against the bar. I held the gin in my hand.

“Bartender,” Ernest said. The young man turned his head. Ernest waved him over.

“Do you have any absinth?” he whispered.

“No sir, we aren’t allowed to serve it here in the Hotel. Management doesn’t want that bunch coming in here.”

“Son, they’re already here. Why don’t you ask who ever runs this joint if they might have a little private stock of it somewhere for a couple of special guests.”

“Yes, Mr. Hemingway. I’ll ask, sir.”

Ernest stepped back and grasped the edge of the bar with both hands.

“Scott, Hadley and I want to keep this place we’re in. You come around at all hours, tight, and people start to complain, and…

I faced the bar and poured the gin down my throat.

Chapter II.

Dear Scott:

… you say that you have been thinking of the past… so have I.

There was:

The strangeness and excitement of New York, of reporters and furry smothered hotel lobbies, the brightness of the sun on the window panes and the prickly dust of late spring: the impressiveness of the Fowlers and much tea-dancing and my eccentric behavior at Princeton. There were Townsend’s blue eyes and Ludlow’s rubbers and a trunk that exuded sachet and the marshmallow odor of the Biltmore. There were always Lud[l]ow and Townsend and Alex and Bill Mackey and you and me. We did not like women and we were happy. There was Georges apartment and his absinth cock-tails [sic] and Ruth Findleys [sic] gold hair in his comb, and visits to the ‘Smart Set’ and ‘Vanity Fair’ – a colligate [sic] literary world puffed into wide proportions by the New York papers. There were flowers and night clubs … and went to John Williams parties where there were actresses who spoke French when they were drunk… I was romanticly [sic] attached to Townsend and he went to Tahatii [sic] – there were your episodes of Gene Bankhead and Miriam…

[Zelda Fitzgerald, 1930]

Zelda and I lived in New York City for a while after we were married. It was a constant swirl: carefree guys I had known at Princeton, women whose intentions were poured into sleek dresses, uptown bars soaked with money from burgeoning post-war careers, and parties given by anyone who wanted to dress up his social standing by inviting a known author and his unpredictable wife. My first novel was selling, and the “slicks” bought a few of my stories. The money came in and lay in my pocket, the inside one of my sport-coat, like the calling card of a gentleman.

Harold Ober, my agent, had called me to a meeting at his office. He had great news. The Saturday Evening Post wanted more of my stories.

“Scott, have a seat. You’re going to love this. They want three more stories at double their last rate.”

Harold was looking at me hard in the eyes. It was the money that dragged a smile out of the pit of my stomach.

“Start writing more of the kind of stuff they’re looking for. The easy read, short stories. That’s what I can sell. It doesn’t matter how long it is, but no novel stuff, something that can be serialized in a few issues.”

The room was pale. The walls a wan blue. Harold sat behind a wooden desk covered with manuscripts from never-to-be heard of writers and a white porcelain coffee cup with a brown stain circling inside near the rim. A waist high radiator, sitting against a wall in the corner, shooshed steam from a tiny appendage. Harold had a habit of leaning back, tilting his chair with his hands grasped together behind his head. His eyes pierced through my silent stare.

“You working on that novel? What is it called?” he asked.

“The Beautiful and Damned, so far, anyway. I want to finish it, Harold, but I need the money. I’ll start on the Post’s stories.”

The radiator hissed, and I took a drag on the cigarette I held between my fingers. Harold sprung forward, launched by the tension of the twisted chair springs. He spoke as he flew back into his reality.

“Great, Scott. How’s Zelda?”


“In New York?”

I glanced at the blank walls, no pictures, just some peeling paint above the radiator. The lower half of the solitary window to my left was obscured by the water running in narrow, helpless rivers down onto the sill. I crossed my legs, leaned forward, and put my cigarette out in the ashtray on the desk.

“The Beautiful and Damned, what do you think of the title, Harold? Will it sell?”

“I don’t know. What does Max think?”

“What do you think, Harold? Do you think the beautiful can ever be damned?”

“I’m not following you, Scott.”

“We all live in an endless eddy, Harold, forever swirling downward. We reach out from the dizzying whirl, and grasp nothing. Where once stood our imagination, there exists only its mangled images. The beautiful turns wretched, and we watch helplessly with the eyes of the damned.”

“We live in a what? I could have sworn you were sober when you walked in here. If this is some kind of writing thing, ask Max”

“Don’t you realize we are headed for a dreadful disorder of what was to be. What started on firm rock, now wobbles and teeters. It can’t last, Harold. She tries to destroy me, I try to destroy her, but all we will ever destroy is us. The beautiful are always damned.”  

“Look, Scott, you’ve been working pretty hard lately. Maybe you just need to give her some attention. That’s all.”

“Harold, I got to go.” I started to walk toward the door.

“Scott, can you have one of those stories by next month?”

I turned toward him and raised my hand as I left his office. I walked down the hall. The light from the door’s transom was nearly gone. I began to descend the stairs. The wood creaked with each step I took. I stepped lighter, but the tired wood continued its complaining. The sound was inescapable, a plaint for every time I bore my weight upon its vulnerable weak back. When I reached the bottom of the staircase, I rushed for the door, and I stepped out onto the street. New York flowed around me without favor or blame, like warm air in the heat of the summer. Cars chugged by haltingly in the traffic and preoccupied people pushed past each other in an endless flow of anonymity.

An indifference gripped me. I needed a drink. I couldn’t shake the darkness of the hallway. The faint echo of the creaking played over and over. It had the tenacity of crushing heartache born from sudden infidelity. A hopeless sadness burrowed itself firmly into all that still struggled to live within me. My chest and gut began to tremble.

 There was a bar within walking distance which was popular with the Princeton set. I headed in that direction. I wanted to stop on my way and buy Zelda something, anything, a gold necklace. I loved buying Zelda things. She loved surprises. That’s what she called them. “Scott, bring me home a surprise. Anything, anything at all,” she would say. There was a small jewelry shop on the corner of 34th and 5th. She had bought some earrings there. They were of the kind that dangled from the ears of New York women stumbling across living rooms at cocktail parties while they spilled champagne from thin-stemmed glasses. I entered the shop and laid three one hundred-dollar bills on the counter. I walked out with a necklace the jeweler said would match the earrings Zelda had bought.

“Scott, Scott,” I heard a man calling me. He was with a woman about a block or so ahead. It was Townsend Martin, an old friend from my Princeton days. He was living in New York, trying his hand at writing some plays. But it was the woman, her arm wrapped around his, who captured my attention. The shaking in my middle increased and it flowed into my upper arms. The falling night had brought a darkness which stood stark and still and bold. A ghastly image appeared and pierced me deeply, seizing my thoughts and narrowing my senses. Terror poured from my imagination. I stood frozen in the dank and coarse New York night. The woman was Zelda.  

“Zelda said that you went to see Ober,” Townsend said. “We thought you’d be at the that bar on 34th Street.” Townsend was bubbling with enthusiasm. His party spirit lay like vomit on me, and I wanted to wipe it from my body and give it to the one who deserved it most. She snuggled his arm.

“Scott, you look lost, dear. Did Harold give you some bad news?” Her words flowed slowly with the intended cold rhythm of triumphant. Her brow wrinkled. Her intent, with a calculated precision, swarmed to extinguish the dwindling spark struggling for life within me. I didn’t want to share her, not even in the least of ways, and, at times, I hated her for it. Her flirtations and secrets cut at the very heart of me. Ernest, in our days in Paris, often said I should divorce her. He didn’t understand. The dreams forged from the once formless musings of the infinitely hopeful become hardened, never to be assailed lest they fall from the heavens. No other man must ever touch her.

“Scott, what do you want from me?” She would say when I asked too many questions about what she had done with the men who had come and gone in her life. “What does it matter?” she would say. My imagination had twisted itself into bizarre shapes of her body wrapped around another. My torment tore at the fabric of my dreams,  slipping from my grasp. I wanted them back as whole and pure as I had created them. Zelda never had wanted anyone but me. Her every indiscretion was a mistake, a simple lapse of judgment of haphazard youth. I insisted she tell me about each sexual encounter, and together we would go back and recreate the truth. 

She never has told me about any of them. She uses them as the most delicate of instruments, wounding so gently but effectively, over and over. She is a selfish woman. She has taken for her own despicable use the dreams I had shared with her in those early days in the shimmering waves of the Alabama heat.

“I guess we should get that drink,” I said.

Zelda linked my arm, but never released his.  The three of us walked together. My trembling, by the sheer crescendo of its magnitude, burst from my middle. It left in its wake a vacuum where once existed all that mattered. My body lapsed into a reckless state. The desperate person inside of me, incarnated from hope and vision, retched from pain.

Arm-in -arm we walked up the five concrete steps to the barroom. Townsend pulled the door open, and Zelda entered. He and I followed. It wasn’t quite five o’clock and the place was quiet. Only two young girls, somewhere in their twenties, sat next to each other at the mid-section of the bar. I drew up a stool next to them. Zelda sat to my left and Townsend next to her.

“What’ll it be?” the bartender said.

One of the young girls whispered into the ear of the other, and they giggled. They wore hats that fitted close to their heads and the design reminded me of the helmets worn by the German army during the War. Some hair escaped from the fronts and wound itself into loose, solitary curls. They wore dresses with belts which tied at their hips. The purposeful inattention of the girls to hems, which rested high above their knees, gave the impression that the impropriety was a result of innocence and naivete. They sat with their legs crossed, creating two slender cascades. The two women nearly faced each other, resembling bookends most appropriately found on the shelf in a bordello.

“A bottle of gin,” I said to the bartender. I looked at Zelda and Townsend and turned back to the bartender. “I’m not sure what they’re having.”

Zelda turned toward me and a gave me a look. Her lips were in a tight straight line. She turned her body toward Townsend. I shot a half glass of gin down my throat. How in the hell did he meet up with Zelda? What were they doing together? She could have told me anything, and I wouldn’t have believed her. Why did she hang on to him like that?

“Townsend,” I said in a tone of casualness not seen since the Kaiser asked how the War was going. “Why did you want to see me?” I could have cared less why, but I had hoped to unearth the circumstances of his meeting Zelda. My imagination by this time had invaded my gut.

“I wanted to tell you the good news,” he said. “One of my plays has been picked up by an off-Broadway company, and they’re actually paying me. I went to your apartment, and Zelda told me you had gone to see Ober. She said it would be fun to look for you.”

“I hope my thoughtful wife offered you a drink.”

Zelda turned to me. “Of course, my dear, we both had a drink, or was it two? I can’t really remember. Yes, it was two, one in the living room and one in the bedroom.”

Townsend was silent. His face fell sullen. He lifted his drink and sipped it staring into the mirror behind the bar.

“Is there anything else you would like to know, dear, or is that enough fiction for today. Fiction is what you are about? Right?”

I poured another half glass of gin. My trembling dissipated and rushed to my face as a hot blush. I turned to the girl sitting next to me. Her back was to me. I got up and stood between and behind the giggling pair of promised promiscuity.

“Scott Fitzgerald,” I said, wavering slightly as I spoke. The glass of gin was in my hand. I took a gulp.  “I’m a writer and I was struck by your whispering and laughing. I’m always in search of characters. What are you drinking? Another?”

“I don’t see why not,” said the one on my left. She looked at her near mirror image. They giggled in acquiescence. The bartender brought two martinis.

Zelda turned on her stool completely toward Townsend and held her head in her hand, supported by her arm resting on the bar.

The two tittering girls sat like two birds perfectly perched. 

The girl on my right said, “I’m not sure I want to be a character. I mean I just don’t know how I feel about that.”

“What do you write, Scott?” The other one said.

This Side of Paradise, have you read it?  And some stuff for the Saturday Evening Post.”

“No, I haven’t read it.”

The other chirped, “I have. You’re F. Scott Fitzgerald, right? I’ve read some of your Post stories. Quite good I thought. How do you think of all that stuff?”

“Townsend, you missed our wedding. I just can’t forgive you for that.” Zelda said, grasping his forearm. I continued to feed the birds with the ramblings of a man of accomplishment.

“I didn’t get your names. I’m sorry.”

“I’m Cynthia,” said the one on the right.

“Catherine,” said the one on the left.

I moved closer to them and gripped the back of their stools.

“You want to know how I think up all that stuff?”

Catherine shifted her body in my direction. Her hem rose higher by virtue of her movement, and, I was sure, by her intention. She sat complacent, addressing me with her eyes. She exposed an inch more of her leg, and her invitation soared a mile in my mind. I stood taller. My face no longer burned from the current humiliation Zelda served as a sauce to the distasteful dish she so often forced down my throat. My threatened dreams hid in a shallow refuge formed by the circle which I formed with the two stray fowl.

“You owe me kisses, you know, wedding kisses,” Zelda said to Townsend. I saw in the periphery of my vision, her head, still resting in her hand, move more to a tilt. Townsend, standing, shifted nervously.

 I turned my attention to Catherine.

“All that stuff… I don’t think it up,” I said, directing my eyes on the soft, moist intensity in her face. “It comes to me, like a visitor bringing a message.” I reached around her and grabbed the bottle of gin sitting on the bar. I poured myself another glass. I raised the bottle, shook it side to side between the girls. Catherine raised her glass. I poured generously. Cynthia sipped her Martini. “Like you two,” I said. “You’re characters waiting to be discovered.”  I took a large swallow of the gin.

Zelda sprang off her stool. “Townsend, dance with me.”

“There isn’t any music,” he answered. He remained facing the bar.

“There’s always music somewhere.” Zelda replied.

Townsend bent his head down and turned in my direction. “Scott, do you mind?” I pretended not to hear.

“Scott, do you mind if I dance with your wife?”

The thought of another man touching her cut to my core. The pleasure she would give him sickened me. It could never be undone.

“What do you want from me?” Zelda had asked me countless times over the last two years. The answer was simple. Many years later, when her life was limited by the confines of Asheville Psychiatric Hospital, when nothing remained of us except the ghost of my hope, I finally told her the answer.

 “I want you to obey me,” I said.  It was then that I understood for the first time how she never realized the purity and power of the vibration that rang out from the stars on that night we had met. She was a selfish woman. She ignored the life I set in motion for us. She had travelled alone and arrived nowhere.   

Townsend took Zelda’s hand into his and put his other hand on her back. I finished the gin in my glass and forced a smile at the girls.

“Townsend,” I heard in clear tones, “I do want those wedding kisses.” I glanced quickly at Zelda. Her back was to me.

 “No wedding kisses,” Townsend replied, “no more to drink.”

It didn’t matter what she was about to do. She had already done it.

The intensity on Catherine’s face faded into a playful look. Her cheeks relaxed into supple, rosy beds. Her face resembled that of a child, smiling about nothing. Cynthia sipped her Martini which she held continuously near her lips. She bent her head down slightly and peered through her lashes at Catherine.

“Who am I?” Catherine said, looking at me, her eyes still and directed. Her mouth broke into a strange smile. Her lips protruded, tight and wicked.

I can’t tell you who you are. I am a writer. I can show you.” I stepped back. Zelda and Townsend came into my field of vision. She had her arms wrapped around his neck. Her body hung from him.

I looked at Catherine. “Your character is a beautiful woman sitting in a bar located deep in the loneliness of the City. A successful man sees you sitting unaccompanied. He is captivated by you. He buys you a drink, tells you his sorrowful story, and you long for him.” Cynthia giggled. Her eyes widened and looked squarely at Catherine.

“That is quite a good bit of fiction, Scott,“ Catherine said.

Cynthia giggled again. She reached out and touched Catherine’s face. She took Cynthia’s hand into hers and began stroking her arm. Zelda let go of Townsend, turned around and stared down along the bar, but she never looked at me. She sat frozen, no triumphant look, no smirk of ridicule. The chagrin of misspent revenge blushed my face. Zelda’s eyes were riveted to the girls. Her face was frozen, like a flesh mask fashioned by a sculptor who caught his subject in the depths of a fantasy, disarmed and consumed.

Maybe it was time to leave, I thought.

Catherine turned her gaze from Cynthia and looked in my direction.

“What do I do now?” she asked.

I looked at her blankly. 

“What does my character do now?”

“She gets up and walks into a different novel,” I said.

I leaned in to grab the bottle of gin, which sat on the bar between the girls. When my ear passed Catherine’s lips, she spoke softly and slowly, “We do like men.”

“Scott,” Townsend said. He walked toward me. Zelda sat at the bar; a drink was in her right hand. Her left arm was draped across her stomach and it held firmly onto her waist. Her back was tense and straight. She directed her eyes forward away from the girls. On occasion, with her lips on the wide rim of her glass, she glanced at Cynthia. With increasing frequency, Cynthia’s eyes landed in Zelda’s.

Townsend stood next to me, behind the two girls.

“Got to go,” he said, “I’m a working writer now, you know.”

“So am I,” I replied, “and that’s the reason I’m staying.”

“I don’t know how you do it, my friend, out all night, sleeping it off all morning…”

“I don’t do it. It does it to me.”

Townsend looked at me. He cocked his head and his eyes squinted slightly.

“It sits right here.” I pointed to a spot between my chest and stomach. “I try to put it on the page, to get rid of it, but it never goes away. It lays in a twisted lump.”

 It was in those times when I tried to unwind this draining convolution into words, a dark cloud would move over me.  Each time I ran, frantically and futilely, from the suffocating sadness, raining down. Hopelessness would puddled around me. It was then, in those times, when I fell back on the dreams which I planted many years ago and drank the gin which made them all believable.

It was that night in the haze of that drunken New York barroom, while I pointed to the struggle in my twisted gut, in the midst of the chaos that had become my life, two opposing characters appeared and grew in my soul. One lived with intoxicated hope; the other existed in a sober hopelessness. Four years later Jay Gatsby met Nick Carraway.

“Scott, you’ve had enough, Townsend said. “Why don’t you and Zelda go home?”

“No, not ready to go yet.” I looked in Zelda’s direction. “How about you, dear?”

“I’m with you,” she replied.

“Glad to hear that’s settled,” I said. Zelda turned her head and gave me a delighted stare. She seemed to savor the last bit of my jealousy.

“Alright,” Townsend said, “I’m leaving. Go slow, Scott.”

He began to walk toward the door. Zelda called to him, “I still want those wedding kisses.”

You bitch.


Chapter I.
4  “All good books are alike….”
Ernest Hemingway. “Old Newsman Writes: a letter from Cuba.”  Esquire Magazine December 1, 1934: 26.

Chapter II.
5  “No personality as strong as Zelda’s … but Zelda’s the only God I have left now.” :
Broccoli, Mathew J., Fitzgerald, F. Scott, et al., Correspondence of F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Random House, 1980. P. 53
17 I’m a professional … me are one in ten million.”
Stenographic Report of Conversation Between Mr. & Mrs. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dr. Thomas A. C. Rennie,” LaPaix, Rodgers Forge, Towson, Maryland, TMs (carbon), May 28, 1933, 114 pp., with note by Thomas A. C. Rennie to Dr. Slocum; Craig House Medical Records on Zelda Fitzgerald, C0745, Box 1, Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

Coming in the Fall Issue: Chapter 3 & 4


Don Donato received a Masters of Liberal Arts in Creative Writing and Literature from Harvard University, College of Extended studies, in 2019. His graduate interest was studying the writing of the Lost Generation living in Paris in the 1920’s. In addition to short stories published in various journals, Don has written a novella, In the Faded Blue Light, in the voice and style of F. Scott Fitzgerald in the form of “memoir.”

Don Donato: Dod401@Alumni.Harvard.edu